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kind to us, and we often have occasion to read her writing." "Well, it
is worth a very good dinner to get through a page of it." "I take my
revenge in kind, and I fancy she has the worst of it." "I don't know,
after all that she will get much the better of me with this _plume
d'auberge._" He was quite right, for, although Sir Walter writes a
smooth even hand, and one that appears rather well than otherwise on a
page, it is one of the most difficult to decipher I have ever met with;
the i's, u's, m's, n's, a's, e's, t's, etc., etc., for want of dots,
crossings, and being fully rounded, looking all alike, and rendering the
reading slow and difficult, without great familiarity with his mode of
handling the pen: at least, I have found it so.

He had sealed the note, and was about writing the direction, when he
seemed at a loss. "How do you address this lady - as Her Highness?" I
was much surprised at this question from him, for it denoted a want of
familiarity with the world, that one would not have expected in a man
who had been so very much and so long courted by the great. But, after
all, his life has been provincial, though, as his daughter remarked in
the course of the morning, they had no occasion to quit Scotland to see
the world, all the world coming to see Scotland.

The next morning he was with me again, for near an hour and we completed
our little affair. After this we had a conversation on the law of
copyrights in the two countries, which as we possess a common language,
is a subject of great national interest. I understood him to say that he
had a double right in England to his works; one under a statute, and the
other growing out of common law. Any one publishing a book, let it be
written by whom it might, in England, duly complying with the law, can
secure the right, whereas none but a _citizen_ can do the same in
America. I regret to say that I misled him on the subject of our
copyright law, which, after all, is not so much more illiberal than that
of England as I had thought it.

I told Sir Walter Scott, that, in order to secure a copyright in
America, it was necessary the book should never have been published
_anywhere else_. This was said under the popular notion of the matter;
or that which is entertained among the booksellers. Reflection and
examination have since convinced me of my error: the publication alluded
to in the law can only mean publication in America; for, as the object
of doing certain acts previously to publication is merely to forewarn
the _American_ public that the right is reserved, there can be no motive
for having reference to any other publication. It is, moreover, in
conformity with the spirit of all laws to limit the meaning of their
phrases by their proper jurisdiction. Let us suppose a case. An American
writes a book, he sends a copy to England, where it is published in
March complying with the terms of our own copyright law, as to the
entries and notices, the same work is published here in April. Now will
it be pretended that his right is lost, always providing that his own is
the first _American_ publication? I do not see how it can be so by
either the letter or the spirit of the law. The intention is to
encourage the citizen to write, and to give him a just property in the
fruits of his labour; and the precautionary provisions of the law are
merely to prevent others from being injured for want of proper
information. It is of no moment to either of these objects that the
author of a work has already reaped emolument in a foreign country: the
principle is to encourage literature by giving it all the advantages it
can obtain.

If these views are correct, why may not an English writer secure a right
in this country, by selling it in season, to a citizen here? An
equitable trust might not, probably would not be sufficient; but a _bona
fide_ transfer for a valuable consideration, I begin to think, would. It
seems to me that all the misconception which has existed on this point
has arisen from supposing that the term _publication_ refers to other
than a publication in the country. But, when one remembers how rare it
is to get lawyers to agree on a question like this, it becomes a layman
to advance his opinion with great humility. I suppose, after all a good
way of getting an accurate notion of the meaning of the law, would be to
toss a dollar into the air, and cry "heads," or "tails." Sir Walter
Scott seemed fully aware of the great circulation of his books in
America, as well as how much he lost by not being able to secure a
copyright. Still he admitted they produced him something. Our
conversation on this subject terminated by a frank offer, on his part,
of aiding me with the publishers of his own country;[16] but, although
grateful for the kindness, I was not so circumstanced as to be able to
profit by it.

[Footnote 16: An offer that was twice renewed, after intervals of several
years.]

He did not appear to me to be pleased with Paris. His notions of the
French were pretty accurate, though clearly not free from the old
fashioned prejudices. "After all," he remarked, "I am a true Scot,
never, except on this occasion, and the short visit I made to Paris in
1815, having been out of my own country, unless to visit England, and I
have even done very little of the latter." I understood him to say he
had never been in Ireland, at all.

I met him once more, in the evening, at the hotel of the Princesse - - .
The party had been got together in a hurry, and was not large. Our
hostess contrived to assemble some exceedingly clever people, however,
among whom were one or two women, who are already historical, and whom I
had fancied long since dead. All the female part of the company, with
the silent delicacy that the French so well understand, appeared with
ribbons, hats, or ornaments of some sort or other, of a Scottish stamp.
Indeed, almost the only woman in the room, that did not appear to be a
Caledonian was Miss Scott. She was in half-mourning, and, with her black
eyes and jet-black hair, might very well have passed for a French woman,
but for a slight peculiarity about the cheek-bones. She looked
exceedingly well, and was much admired. Having two or three more places
to go to, they stayed but an hour. As a matter of course, all the French
women were exceedingly _empressées_ in their manner towards the Great
Unknown; and as there were three or four that were very exaggerated on
the score of romance, he was quite lucky if he escaped some absurdities.
Nothing could be more patient than his manner, under it all; but as soon
as he very well could, he got into a corner, where I went to speak to
him. He said, laughingly, that he spoke French with so much difficulty,
he was embarrassed to answer the compliments. "I am as good a lion as
needs be, allowing my mane to be stroked as familiarly as they please,
but I can't growl for them, in French. How is it with you?" Disclaiming
the necessity of being either a good or a bad lion, being very little
troubled in that way, for his amusement I related to him an anecdote.
Pointing out to him a Comtesse de - - , who was present, I told him, I
had met this lady once a week for several months, and at every _soirée_
she invariably sailed up to me to say - "Oh, Monsieur - - , quelles
livres! - vos charmans livres - que vos livres sont charmans!" and I had
just made up my mind that she was, at least, a woman of taste, when she
approached me with the utmost _sang-froid_, and cried - "Bon soir,
Monsieur - - ; je viens d'acheter tous vos livres, et je compte profiter
de la première occasion pour les lire!"

I took leave of him in the ante-chamber, as he went away, for he was to
quit Paris the following evening.

Sir Walter Scott's person and manner have been so often described, that
you will not ask much of me in this way, especially as I saw so little
of him. His frame is large and muscular, his walk difficult, in
appearance, though be boasted himself a vigorous mountaineer, and his
action, in general, measured and heavy. His features and countenance
were very Scottish, with the short thick nose, heavy lips, and massive
cheeks. The superior or intellectual part of his head was neither deep
nor broad, but perhaps the reverse, though singularly high. Indeed, it
is quite uncommon to see a scull so round and tower-like in the
formation, though I have met with them in individuals not at all
distinguished for talents. I do not think a casual observer would find
anything unusual in the exterior of Sir Walter Scott, beyond his
physical force, which is great, without being at all extraordinary. His
eye, however, is certainly remarkable. Grey, small, and without lustre,
in his graver moments it appears to look inward, instead of regarding
external objects, in a way, though the expression, more or less, belongs
to abstraction, that I have never seen equalled. His smile is
good-natured and social; and when he is in the mood, as happened to be
the fact so often in our brief intercourse as to lead me to think it
characteristic of the man, his eye would lighten with a great deal of
latent fun. He spoke more freely of his private affairs than I had
reason to expect, though our business introduced the subject naturally;
and, at such times, I thought the expression changed to a sort of
melancholy resolution, that was not wanting in sublimity.

The manner of Sir Walter Scott is that of a man accustomed to see much
of the world without being exactly a man of the world himself. He has
evidently great social tact, perfect self-possession, is quiet, and
absolutely without pretension, and has much dignity; and yet it struck
me that he wanted the ease and _aplomb_ of one accustomed to live with
his equals. The fact of his being a lion may produce some such effect;
but I am mistaken if it be not more the influence of early habits and
opinions than of anything else.

Scott has been so much the mark of society, that it has evidently
changed his natural manner, which is far less restrained than it is his
habit to be in the world. I do not mean by this, the mere restraint of
decorum, but a drilled simplicity or demureness, like that of girls who
are curbed in their tendency to fun and light-heartedness, by the dread
of observation. I have seldom known a man of his years, whose manner was
so different in a _tête-à-tête_, and in the presence of a third person.
In Edinburgh the circle must be small, and he probably knows every one.
If strangers do go there, they do not go all at once, and of course the
old faces form the great majority; so that he finds himself always on
familiar ground. I can readily imagine that in Auld Reekie, and among
the proper set, warmed perhaps by a glass of mountain-dew, Sir Walter
Scott, in his peculiar way, is one of the pleasantest companions the
world holds.

There was a certain M. de - - at the _soirée_ of the Princesse - - ,
who has obtained some notoriety as the writer of novels. I had, the
honour of being introduced to this person, and was much amused with one
of his questions. You are to understand that the vaguest possible
notions exist in France on the subject of the United States. Empires,
states, continents, and islands are blended in inextricable confusion, in
the minds of a large majority of even the intelligent classes, and we
sometimes hear the oddest ideas imaginable. This ignorance, quite
pardonable in part, is not confined to France by any means, but exists
even in England, a country that ought to know us better. It would seem
that M. de - - , either because I was a shade or two whiter than
himself, or because he did not conceive it possible that an American
could write a book (for in this quarter of the world there is a strong
tendency to believe that every man whose name crosses the ocean from
America is merely some European who has gone there), or from some cause
that to me is inexplicable, took it into his head that I was an
Englishman who had amused a leisure year or two in the Western
Hemisphere. After asking me a few questions concerning the country, he
very coolly continued - "Et combien de temps avez-vous passé en Amérique,
monsieur?" Comprehending his mistake, for a little practice here makes
one quick in such matters, I answered, "Monsieur, nous y sommes depuis
deux siècles." I question if M. de - - has yet recovered from his
surprise!

The French, when their general cleverness is considered, are singularly
ignorant of the habits, institutions, and civilization of other
countries. This is in part owing to their being little addicted to
travelling. Their commercial enterprise is not great; for though we
occasionally see a Frenchman carrying with him into pursuits of this
nature the comprehensive views, and one might almost say, the
philosophy, that distinguish the real intelligence of the country, such
instances are rare, the prevailing character of their commerce being
caution and close dealing. Like the people of all great nations, their
attention is drawn more to themselves than to others; and then the want
of a knowledge of foreign languages has greatly contributed to their
ignorance. This want of knowledge of foreign languages, in a nation that
has traversed Europe as conquerors, is owing to the fact that they have
either carried their own language with them, or met it everywhere. It is
a want, moreover, that belongs rather to the last generation than to the
present; the returned emigrants having brought back with them a taste
for English, German, Italian, and Spanish, which has communicated itself
to all, or nearly all, the educated people of the country. English, in
particular, is now very generally studied; and perhaps, relatively, more
French, under thirty years of age, are to be found in Paris who speak
English, than Americans, of the same age, are to be found in New York
who speak French.

I think the limited powers of the language, and the rigid laws to which
it has been subjected, contribute to render the French less acquainted
with foreign nations than they would otherwise be. In all their
translations there is an effort to render the word, however peculiar may
be its meaning, into the French tongue. Thus, "township" and "city," met
with in an American book, would probably be rendered by "_canton_" or
"_commune_" or "_ville_;" neither of which conveys an accurate idea of
the thing intended. In an English or American book we should introduce
the French word at once, which would induce the reader to inquire into
the differences that exist between the minor territorial divisions, of
his own country, and those of the country of which he is reading. In
this manner is the door open for further information, until both writers
and readers come to find it easier and more agreeable to borrow words
from others, than to curtail their ideas by their national vocabularies.
The French, however, are beginning to feel their poverty in this
respect, and some are already bold enough to resort to the natural cure.

The habit of thinking of other nations through their own customs,
betrays the people of this country into many ridiculous mistakes. One
hears here the queerest questions imaginable every day; all of which,
veiled by the good breeding and delicacy that characterize the nation,
betray an innocent sense of superiority that may be smiled at, and which
creates no feeling of resentment. A _savant_ lately named to me the
coasting tonnage of France, evidently with the expectation of exciting
my admiration; and on my receiving the information coolly, he inquired,
with a little sarcasm of manner - "Without doubt, you have some coasting
tonnage also in America?" "The coasting tonnage of the United Slates,
Monsieur, is greater than the entire tonnage of France." The man looked
astonished, and I was covered with questions as to the nature of the
trade that required so much shipping among a population numerically so
small. It could not possibly be the consumption of a country - he did not
say it, but he evidently thought it - so insignificant and poor? I told
him, that bread, wine, and every other article of the first necessity
excepted, the other consumption of America, especially in luxuries, did
not fall so much short of that of France as he imagined, owing to the
great abundance in which the middling and lower classes lived. Unlike
Europe, articles that were imported were mere necessaries of life, in
America, such as tea, coffee, sugar, etc. etc., the lowest labourer
usually indulging in them. He left me evidently impressed with new
notions, for there is a desire to learn mingled with all their vanity.

But I will relate a laughable blunder of a translator, by way of giving
you a familiar example of the manner in which the French fall into error
concerning the condition of other nations, and to illustrate my meaning.
In one of the recent American novels that have been circulated here, a
character is made to betray confusion, by tracing lines on the table,
after dinner, with some wine that had been spilt; a sort of idle
occupation sufficiently common to allow the allusion to be understood by
every American. The sentence was faithfully rendered; but, not satisfied
with giving his original, the translator annexes a note, in which he
says, "One sees by this little trait, that the use of table-cloths, at
the time of the American Revolution, was unknown in America!" You will
understand the train of reasoning that led him to this conclusion. In
France the cover is laid, perhaps, on a coarse table of oak, or even of
pine, and the cloth is never drawn; the men leaving the table with the
women. In America, the table is of highly polished mahogany, the cloth
is removed, and the men sit, as in England. Now the French custom was
supposed to be the custom of mankind, and wine could not be traced on
the wood had there been a cloth; America was a young and semi-civilized
nation, and, _ergo_, in 1779, there could have been no table-cloths
known in America! - When men even visit a people of whom they have been
accustomed to think in this way, they use their eyes through the medium
of the imagination. I lately met a French traveller who affirmed that
the use of carpets was hardly known among us.




LETTER XIII.

French Manufactures. - Sèvres China. - Tapestry of the Gobelins. - Paper
for Hangings. - The Savonnerie. - French Carpets. - American Carpets.
- Transfer of old Pictures from Wood to Canvass. - Coronation Coach.
- The Arts in France - in America. - American Prejudice.


To JAMES E. DE KAY, ESQUIRE.

In my last, I gave you a few examples of the instances in which the
French have mistaken the relative civilization of their country and
America, and I shall now give you some in which we have fallen into the
same error, or the other side of the question.

There has lately been an exhibition of articles of French manufacture,
at Paris; one of, I believe, the triennial collections of this
character, that have been established here. The court of the Louvre was
filled with temporary booths for the occasion, and vast ranges of the
unfinished apartments in that magnificent palace have been thrown open
for the same purpose. The court of the Louvre, of itself, is an area
rather more than four hundred feet square, and I should think fully a
quarter of a mile of rooms in the building itself are to be added to the
space occupied for this purpose.

The first idea, with which I was impressed, on walking through the
booths and galleries, on this occasion, was the great disproportion
between the objects purely of taste and luxury, and the objects of use.
The former abounded, were very generally elegant and well-imagined,
while the latter betrayed the condition of a nation whose civilization
has commenced with the summit, instead of the base of society.

In France, nearly every improvement in machinery is the result of
scientific research; is unobjectionable in principles, profound in the
adaptation of its parts to the end, and commonly beautiful in form. But
it ends here, rarely penetrating the mass, and producing positive
results. The Conservatoire des Arts, for instance, is full of beautiful
and ingenious ploughs; while France is tilled with heavy, costly, and
cumbrous implements of this nature. One sees light mould turning up,
here, under a sort of agricultural _diligences_, drawn by four, and even
six heavy horses, which in America would be done quite as well, and much
sooner, by two. You know I am farmer enough to understand what I say, on
a point like this. In France, the cutlery, ironware, glass,
door-fastenings, hinges, locks, fire-irons, axes, hatchets, carpenter's
tools, and, in short, almost everything that is connected with homely
industry and homely comfort, is inferior to the same thing in America.
It is true, many of our articles are imported, but this produces no
change in the habits of the respective people; our manufactories are
merely in Birmingham, instead of being in Philadelphia.

I have now been long enough in France to understand that seeing an
article in an exhibition like the one I am describing, is no proof that
it enters at all into the comforts and civilization of the nation,
although it may be an object as homely as a harrow or a spade. The
scientific part of the country has little influence, in this way, on the
operative. The chasm between knowledge and ignorance is so vast in
France, that it requires a long time for the simplest idea to find its
way across it.

Exhibitions are everywhere bad guides to the average civilization of a
country, as it is usual to expose only the objects that have been
wrought with the greatest care. In a popular sense, they are proofs of
what can be done, rather than of what _is_ done. The cloths that I saw
in the booths, for instance, are not to be met with in the shops; the
specimens of fire-arms, glass, cutlery, etc., etc., too, are all much
superior to anything one finds on sale. But this is the case everywhere,
from the boarding-school to the military parade, men invariably putting
the best foot foremost when they are to be especially inspected. This is
not the difference I mean. Familiar as every American, at all accustomed
to the usages of genteel life in his own country, must be with the
better manufactures of Great Britain, I think he would be struck by the
inferiority of even the best specimens of the commoner articles that
were here laid before the public. But when it came to the articles of
elegance and luxury, as connected with forms, taste, and execution,
though not always in ingenuity and extent of comfort, I should think
that no Englishman, let his rank in life be what it would, could pass
through this wilderness of elegancies without wonder.

Even the manufactures in which we, or rather the English (for I now
refer more to use than to production), ordinarily excel, such as
carpets, rugs, porcelain, plate, and all the higher articles of personal
comfort, _as exceptions_, surpass those of which we have any notion. I
say, _as exceptions_, not in the sense by which we distinguish the
extraordinary efforts of the ordinary manufacturer, in order to make a
figure at an exhibition, but certain objects produced in certain
exclusive establishments that are chiefly the property of the crown, as
they have been the offspring of regal taste and magnificence.

Of this latter character is the Sèvres china. There are manufactures of
this name of a quality that brings them within the reach of moderate
fortunes, it is true; but one obtains no idea of the length to which
luxury and taste have been pushed in this branch of art without
examining the objects made especially for the king, who is in the habit
of distributing them as presents among the crowned heads and his
personal favourites. After the ware has been made with the greatest care
and of the best materials, artists of celebrity are employed to paint
it. You can easily imagine the value of these articles, when you
remember that each plate has a design of its own, beautifully executed
in colours, and presenting a landscape or an historical subject that is
fit to be framed and suspended in a gallery. One or two of the artists
employed in this manner have great reputations, and it is no uncommon
thing to see miniatures in gilded frames which, on examination, prove to
be on porcelain. Of course the painting has been subject to the action
of heat in the baking. As respects the miniatures, there is not much to
be said in their favour. They are well drawn and well enough coloured;
but the process and the material give them a glossy, unnatural
appearance, which must prevent them from ever being considered as more



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 17 of 29)