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an exaggerated opinion, on the part of some of our people, on the
subject of the fastidiousness of princes, as respects their associates,
there exists among others very confused notions on the other side of the
question. A monarch usually cares very little about the quarterings and
the nobility of the person he receives, but he always wishes his court
to be frequented by people of education, accomplishments, and breeding.
In Europe these qualities are confined to _castes_, and, beyond a
question, as a general practice, every king would not only prefer, but,
were there a necessity for it, he would command that his doors should be
closed against all others, unless they came in a character different
from that of courtiers. This object has, in effect, been obtained, by
establishing a rule, that no one who has not been presented at his own
court can claim to be presented at any foreign European court; thus
leaving each sovereign to see that no one of his own subjects shall
travel with this privilege who would be likely to prove an unpleasant
guest to any other prince. But we have neither any prince nor any court,
and the minister is left to decide for himself who is, and who is not,
proper to be presented.

Let us suppose a case. A master and his servant make a simultaneous
request to be presented to the King of France. Both are American
citizens, and if _either_ has any political claim, beyond mere courtesy,
to have his request attended to, _both_ have. The minister is left to
decide for himself. He cannot so far abuse the courtesy that permits him
to present his countrymen at all, as to present the domestic, and of
course he declines doing it. In this case, perhaps, public opinion would
sustain him, as, unluckily, the party of the domestics is small in
America, the duties usually falling to the share of foreigners and
blacks. But the principle may be carried upwards, until a point is
attained where a minister might find it difficult to decide between that
which his own sense of propriety should dictate, and that which others
might be disposed to claim. All other ministers get rid of their
responsibility by the acts of their own courts; but the minister of the
republic is left exposed to the calumny, abuse, and misrepresentation of
any disappointed individual, should he determine to do what is strictly
right.

Under these circumstances, it appears to me that there are but two
courses left for any agent of our government to pursue: either to take
_official_ rank as his only guide, or to decline presenting any one. It
is not his duty to act as a master of ceremonies; every court has a
regular officer for this purpose, and any one who has been presented
himself, is permitted on proper representations to present others. The
trifling disadvantage will be amply compensated for, by the great and
peculiar benefits that arise from our peculiar form of government.

These things will quite likely strike you as of little moment. They are,
however, of more concern than one living in the simple society of
America may at first suppose. The etiquette of visiting has of course an
influence on the entire associations of a traveller, and may not be
overlooked, while the single fact that one people were practically
excluded from the European courts, would have the same effect on their
other enjoyments here, that it has to exclude an individual from the
most select circles of any particular town. Ordinary life is altogether
coloured by things that, in themselves, may appear trifling, but which
can no more be neglected with impunity, than one can neglect the varying
fashions in dress.

The Americans are not a shoving people, like their cousins the English.
Their fault in this particular lies in a morbid pride, with a
stubbornness that is the result of a limited experience, and which is
too apt to induce them to set up their own provincial notions, as the
standard, and to throw them backward into the intrenchments, of
self-esteem. This feeling is peculiarly fostered by the institutions. It
is easy to err in this manner; and it is precisely the failing of the
countryman, everywhere, when he first visits town. It is, in fact, the
fault of ignorance of the world. By referring to what I have just told
you, it will be seen that these are the very propensities which will be
the most likely to make one uncomfortable in Europe, where so much of
the initiative of intercourse is thrown upon the shoulders of the
stranger.

I cannot conclude this letter without touching on another point, that
suggests itself at the moment. It is the fashion to decry the
niggardliness of the American government on the subject of money, as
compared with those of this hemisphere. Nothing can be more unjust. Our
working men are paid better than even those of England, with the
exception of a few who have high dignities to support. I do not see the
least necessity for giving the President a dollar more than he gets
to-day, since all he wants is enough to entertain handsomely, and to
shield him from loss. Under our system, we never can have an _exclusive_
court, nor is it desirable, for in this age a court is neither a school
of manners, nor a school of anything else that is estimable. These facts
are sufficiently proved by England, a country whose mental cultivation
and manners never stood as high as they do to-day, and yet it has
virtually been without a court for an entire generation. A court may
certainly foster taste and elegance; but they may be quite as well
fostered by other, and less exclusive, means. But while the President
may receive enough, the heads of departments, at home, and the foreign
ministers of the country, are not more than half paid, _particularly the
latter_. The present minister is childless, his establishment and his
manner of living are both handsome, but not a bit more so than those of
a thousand others who inhabit this vast capital, and his intercourse
with his colleagues is not greater than is necessary to the interests of
his country. Now, I know from his own statement, that his expenses,
without a family, exceed by one hundred per cent, his salary. With a
personal income of eighty to a hundred thousand francs a years, he can
bear this drain on his private fortune, but he is almost the only
minister we ever had here who could.

The actual position of our diplomatic agents in Europe is little
understood at home. There are but two or three modes of maintaining the
rights of a nation, to say nothing of procuring those concessions from
others which enter into the commercial relations of states, and in some
degree affect their interests. The best method, certainly, as respects
the two first, is to manifest a determination to defend them by an
appeal to force; but so many conflicting interests stand in the way of
such a policy, that it is exceedingly difficult, wisest and safest in
the end though it be, to carry it out properly. At any rate, such a
course has never yet been in the power of the American government,
whatever it may be able to do hereafter, with its increasing numbers and
growing wealth. But even strength is not always sufficient to obtain
voluntary and friendly concessions, for principle must, in some degree,
be respected by the most potent people, or they will be put to the ban
of the world. Long diplomatic letters, although they may answer the
purposes of ministerial _exposés_, and read well enough in the columns
of a journal, do very little, in fact, as make-weights in negotiations.
I have been told here, _sub rosâ_, and I believe it that some of our
laboured efforts, in this way to obtain redress in the protracted
negotiation for indemnity, have actually lain months in the _bureaux_,
unread by those who alone have power to settle the question. Some
_commis_ perhaps may have cursorily related their contents to his
superior, but the superior himself is usually too much occupied in
procuring and maintaining ministerial majorities, or in looking after
the monopolizing concerns of European politics, to wade through folios
of elaborate argument in manuscript. The public ought to understand,
that the point presents itself to him in the security of his master's
capital, and with little or no apprehension of its coming to an appeal
to arms, very differently from what it occasionally presents itself in
the pages of a President's message, or in a debate in Congress. He has
so many demands on his time, that it is even difficult to have a working
interview with him at all; and when one is obtained, it is not usual to
do more than to go over the preliminaries. The details are necessarily
referred to subordinates.

Now, in such a state of things, any one accustomed to the world, can
readily understand how much may be effected by the kind feelings that
are engendered by daily, social intercourse. A few words can be
whispered in the ears of a minister, in the corner of a drawing-room,
that would never reach him in his bureau. Then _all_ the ministers are
met in society, while the _diplomate_, properly speaking, can claim
officially to see but _one_. In short, in saving, out of an overflowing
treasury, a few thousand dollars a year, we trifle with our own
interests, frequently embarrass our agents, and in some degree discredit
the country. I am not one of your _sensitives_ on the subject of parade
and appearance, nor a member of the embroidery school; still I would
substitute for the irrational frippery of the European customs, a
liberal hospitality, and a real elegance, that should speak well for the
hearts and tastes of the nation. The salary of the minister at Paris, I
know it, by the experience of a housekeeper, ought to be increased by at
least one half, and it would tell better for the interests of the
country were it doubled. Even in this case, however, I do not conceive
that an American would be justified in mistaking the house of an envoy
for a national inn; but that the proper light to view his allowances
would be to consider them as made, first, as an act of justice to the
functionary himself; next, as a measure of expediency, as connected with
the important interests of the country. As it is, I am certain that no
one but a man of fortune can accept a foreign appointment, without
committing injustice to his heirs; and I believe few do accept them
without sincerely regretting the step, in after years.




LETTER XII.

Sir Walter Scott in Paris. - Conversation with him. - Copyright in
America. - Miss Scott. - French Compliments. - Sir Walter Scott's Person
and Manners. - Ignorance as to America. - French Commerce. - French
Translations. - American Luxury.


To JAMES E. DE KAY, ESQUIRE.

We have not only had Mr. Canning in Paris, but Sir Walter Scott has
suddenly appeared among us. The arrival of the Great Unknown, or,
indeed, of any little Unknown from England, would be an event to throw
all the reading clubs at home into a state of high moral and poetical
excitement. We are true village _lionizers_. As the professors of the
Catholic religion are notoriously more addicted to yielding faith to
miraculous interventions, in the remoter dioceses, than in Rome itself;
as loyalty is always more zealous in a colony than in a court; as
fashions are more exaggerated in a province than in a capital, and men
are more prodigious to every one else than their own valets, - so do we
throw the haloes of a vast ocean around the honoured heads of the
celebrated men of this eastern hemisphere. This, perhaps, is the natural
course of things, and is as unavoidable as that the sun shall hold the
earth within the influence of its attraction, until matters shall be
reversed by the earth's becoming the larger and more glorious orb of the
two. Not so in Paris. Here men of every gradation of celebrity, from
Napoleon down to the Psalmanazar of the day, are so very common, that
one scarcely turns round in the streets to look at them. Delicate and
polite attentions, however, fall as much to the share of reputation here
as in any other country, and perhaps more so as respects literary men,
though there is so little _wonder-mongering_. It would be quite
impossible that the presence of Sir Walter Scott should not excite a
sensation. He was frequently named in the journals, received a good deal
of private and some public notice, but, on the whole, much less of both,
I think, than one would have a right to expect for him, in a place like
Paris. I account for the fact, by the French distrusting the forthcoming
work on Napoleon, and by a little dissatisfaction which prevails on the
subject of the tone of "Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk." This feeling
may surprise you, as coming from a nation as old and as great as France;
but, alas! we are all human.

The King spoke to him, in going to his chapel, Sir Walter being in
waiting for that purpose; but, beyond this, I believe he met with no
civilities from the court.

As for myself, circumstances that it is needless to recount had brought
me, to a slight degree, within the notice of Sir Walter Scott, though we
had never met, nor had I ever seen him, even in public, so as to know
his person. Still I was not without hopes of being more fortunate now,
while I felt a delicacy about obtruding myself any further on his time
and attention. Several days after his arrival went by, however, without
my good luck bringing me in his way, and I began to give the matter up,
though the Princesse - - with whom I had the advantage of being on
friendly terms, flattered me with an opportunity of seeing the great
writer at her house, for she had a fixed resolution of making his
acquaintance before he left Paris, _coûte que coûte_.

It might have been ten days after the arrival of Sir Walter Scott, that
I had ordered a carriage, one morning, with an intention of driving over
to the other side of the river, and had got as far as the lower flight
of steps, on my way to enter it, when, by the tramping of horses in the
court, I found that another coach was driving in. It was raining, and,
as my own carriage drove from the door to make way for the newcomer, I
stopped where I was, until it could return. The carriage-steps rattled,
and presently a large, heavy-moulded man appeared in the door of the
hotel. He was grey, and limped a little, walking with a cane. His
carriage immediately drove round, and was succeeded by mine, again; so I
descended. We passed each other on the stairs, bowing as a matter of
course. I had got to the door, and was about to enter the carriage, when
it flashed on my mind that the visit might be to myself. The two lower
floors of the hotel were occupied as a girl's boarding-school; the
reason of our dwelling in it, for our own daughters were in the
establishment; _au second_, there was nothing but our own _appartement_,
and above us, again, dwelt a family whose visitors never came in
carriages. The door of the boarding-school was below, and men seldom
came to it, at all. Strangers, moreover, sometimes did honour me with
calls. Under these impressions I paused, to see if the visitor went as
far as our flight of steps. All this time, I had not the slightest
suspicion of who he was, though I fancied both the face and form were
known to me.

The stranger got up the large stone steps slowly, leaning, with one
hand, on the iron railing, and with the other, on his cane. He was on
the first landing, as I stopped, and, turning towards the next flight,
our eyes met. The idea that I might be the person he wanted, seemed then
to strike him for the first time. "Est-ce Mons. - - que j'ai l'honneur
de voir?" he asked, in French, and with but an indifferent accent.
"Monsieur, je m'appelle - - . Eh bien, donc - je suis Walter Scott."

I ran up to the landing, shook him by the hand, which he stood holding
out to me cordially, and expressed my sense of the honour he was
conferring. He told me, in substance, that the Princesse - - had been
as good as her word, and having succeeded herself in getting hold of
him, she had good-naturedly given him my address. By way of cutting
short all ceremony, he had driven from his hotel to my lodgings. All
this time he was speaking French, while my answers and remarks were in
English. Suddenly recollecting himself, he said - "Well, here have I been
_parlez-vousing_ to you, in a way to surprise you, no doubt; but these
Frenchmen have got my tongue so set to their lingo, that I have half
forgotten my own language." As we proceeded up the next flight of steps,
he accepted my arm, and continued the conversation in English, walking
with more difficulty than I had expected to see. You will excuse the
vanity of my repeating the next observation he made, which I do in the
hope that some of our own exquisites in literature may learn in what
manner a man of true sentiment and sound feeling regards a trait that
they have seen fit to stigmatize unbecoming, "I'll tell you what I most
like," he added, abruptly; "and it is the manner in which you maintain
the ascendency of your own country on all proper occasions, without
descending to vulgar abuse of ours. You are obliged to bring the two
nations in collision, and I respect your liberal hostility." This will
probably be esteemed treason in our own self-constituted mentors of the
press, one of whom, I observe, has quite lately had to apologize to his
readers for exposing some of the sins of the English writers in
reference to ourselves! But these people are not worth our attention,
for they have neither the independence which belongs to masculine
reason, nor manhood even to prize the quality in others. "I am afraid
the mother has not always treated the daughter well," he continued,
"feeling a little jealous of her growth, perhaps; for, though we hope
England has not yet begun to descend on the evil side, we have a
presentiment that she has got to the top of the ladder."

There were two entrances to our apartments; one, the principal, leading
by an ante-chamber and _salle à manger_ into the _salon_, and thence
through other rooms to a terrace; and the other, by a private corridor,
to the same spot. The door of my cabinet opened on this corridor, and
though it was dark, crooked, and anything but savoury, as it led by the
kitchen, I conducted Sir Walter through it, under an impression that he
walked with pain; an idea of which I could not divest myself, in the
hurry of the moment. But for this awkwardness on my part, I believe I
should have been the witness of a singular interview. General Lafayette
had been with me a few minutes before, and he had gone away by the
_salon_, in order to speak to Mrs. - - . Having a note to write, I had
left him there, and I think his carriage could not have quitted the
court when that of Sir Walter Scott entered. If so, the General must
have passed out by the ante-chamber about the time we came through the
corridor.

There would be an impropriety in my relating all that passed in this
interview; but we talked over a matter of business, and then the
conversation was more general. You will remember that Sir Walter was
still the _Unknown_[14] and that he was believed to be in Paris in search
of facts for the Life of Napoleon. Notwithstanding the former
circumstance, he spoke of his works with great frankness and simplicity,
and without the parade of asking any promises of secrecy. In short, as
he commenced in this style, his authorship was alluded to by us both
just as if it had never been called in question. He asked me if I had a
copy of the - - by me, and on my confessing I did not own a single
volume of anything I had written, he laughed, and said he believed that
most authors had the same feeling on the subject: as for himself, he
cared not if he never saw a Waverley novel again, as long as he lived.
Curious to know whether a writer as great and as practised as he felt
the occasional despondency which invariably attends all my own little
efforts of this nature, I remarked that I found the mere composition of
a tale a source of pleasure, so much so, that I always invented twice as
much as was committed to paper in my walks, or in bed, and in my own
judgment much the best parts of the composition never saw the light; for
what was written was usually written at set hours, and was a good deal a
matter of chance, and that going over and over the same subject in
proofs disgusted me so thoroughly with the book, that I supposed every
one else would be disposed to view it with the same eyes. To this he
answered that he was spared much of the labour of proofreading,
Scotland, he presumed, being better off than America in this respect;
but still be said he "would as soon see his dinner again after a hearty
meal as to read one of his own tales when he was fairly rid of it."

[Footnote 14: He did not avow himself for several months afterwards.]

He sat with me nearly an hour, and he manifested, during the time the
conversation was not tied down to business, a strong propensity to
humour. Having occasion to mention our common publisher in Paris, he
quaintly termed him, with a sort of malicious fun, "our Gosling;"[15]
adding, that he hoped he, at least, "laid golden eggs."

[Footnote 15: His name was Gosselin.]

I hoped that he had found the facilities he desired, in obtaining facts
for the forthcoming history. He rather hesitated about admitting this.
"One can hear as much as he pleases, as a gentleman, he is not always
sure how much of it he can, with propriety, relate in a book;
besides" - throwing all his latent humour into the expression of his
small grey eyes - "one may even doubt how much of what he hears is fit
for history on another account." He paused, and his face assumed an
exquisite air of confiding simplicity, as he continued, with perfect
_bonne foi_ and strong Scottish feeling, "I have been to see _my
countryman_ M'Donald, and I rather think that will be about as much as I
can do here, now." This was uttered with so much _naïveté_ that I could
hardly believe it was the same man who, a moment before, had shown so
much shrewd distrust of oral relations of facts.

I inquired when we might expect the work "Some time in the course of the
winter," he replied, "though it is likely to prove larger than I at
first intended. We have got several volumes printed, but I find I must
add to the matter considerably, in order to dispose of the subject. I
thought I should get rid of it in seven volumes, which are already
written, but it will reach, I think, to nine." "If you have two still to
write, I shall not expect to see the book before spring." "You may: let
me once get back to Abbotsford, and I'll soon knock off those two
fellows." To this I had nothing to say, although I thought such a _tour
de force_ in writing might better suit invention than history.

When he rose to go, I begged him to step into the _salon_, that I might
have the gratification of introducing my wife to him. To this he very
good-naturedly assented, and entering the room, after presenting Mrs.
- - and my nephew W - - . he took a seat. He sat some little time, and
his fit of pleasantry returned, for he illustrated his discourse by one
or two apt anecdotes, related with a slightly Scottish accent, that he
seemed to drop and assume at will. Mrs. - - observed to him that the
_bergère_ in which he was seated had been twice honoured that morning,
for General Lafayette had not left it more than half an hour. Sir Walter
Scott looked surprised at this, and said inquiringly, "I thought he had
gone to America, to pass the rest of his days." On my explaining the
true state of the case, he merely observed, "He is a great man;" and yet
I thought the remark was made coldly, or in complaisance to us.

When Sir Walter left us, it was settled that I was to breakfast with him
the following day but one. I was punctual, of course, and found him in a
new silk _douillette_ that he had just purchased, trying "as hard as he
could," as he pleasantly observed, to make a Frenchman of himself - an
undertaking as little likely to be successful, I should think, in the
case of his Scottish exterior, and Scottish interior too, as any
experiment well could be. There were two or three visitors, besides Miss
Ann Scott, his daughter, who was his companion in the journey. He was
just answering an invitation from the Princesse - - , to an evening
party, as I entered. "Here," said he, "you are a friend of the lady, and
_parlez-vous_ so much better than I; can you tell me whether this is for
_Jeudi_, or _Lundi_, or _Mardi_, or whether it means no day at all?" I
told him the day of the week intended. "You get notes occasionally from
the lady, or you could not read her scrawl so readily?" "She is very



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 16 of 29)