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with a cup of _café au lait_. The morning then passed as each one saw
fit. The young men went shooting, the ladies drove out, or read, or had
a little music, while the general and myself were either walking about
the farm, or were conversing in the library. We dined at six, as at
Paris, and tea was made in the drawing-room about nine.

I was glad to hear from General Lafayette, that the reports of Americans
making demands on his purse, like so many other silly rumours that are
circulated, merely because some one has fancied such a thing might be
so, are untrue. On the contrary, he assures me that applications of this
nature are very seldom made, and most of those that have been made have
proved to come from Englishmen, who have thought they might swindle him
in this form. I have had at least a dozen such applications myself, but
I take it nothing is easier, in general, than to distinguish between an
American and a native of Great Britain. It was agreed between us, that
in future all applications of this nature should be sent to me for
investigation.[30]

[Footnote 30: Under this arrangement, two or three years later, an
applicant was sent for examination, under very peculiar circumstances.
The man represented himself to be a shopkeeper of Baltimore, who had
come to England with his wife and child, to purchase goods. He had been
robbed of all he had, according to his account of the matter, about a
thousand pounds in sovereigns, and was reduced to want, in a strange
country. After trying all other means in vain, he bethought him of
coming to Paris, to apply to General Lafayette for succour. He had just
money enough to do this, having left his wife in Liverpool. He appeared
with an English passport, looked like an Englishman, and had even caught
some of the low English idioms, such as, "I am agreeable," for "It is
agreeable to me," or, "I agree to do so," etc. etc. The writer was
exceedingly puzzled to decide as to this man's nationality. At length,
in describing his journey to Paris, he said, "they took my passport from
me, when we got _to the lines_." This settled the matter, as no one but
an American would call a _frontier_ the _lines_. He proved, in the end,
to be an American, and a great rogue.]




LETTER XXI.

Insecurity of the Bourbons. - Distrust of Americans. - Literary Visitor.
- The Templars. - Presents and Invitations. - A Spy - American Virtue.
- Inconsistency. - Social Freedom in America, - French Mannerists
- National Distinctions. - A lively Reaction.


To R. COOPER, ESQ. COOPERSTOWN.

We all went to bed, a night or two since, as usual, and awoke to learn
that there had been a fight in the capital. One of the countless
underplots had got so near the surface, that it threw up smoke. It is
said, that about fifty were killed and wounded, chiefly on the part of
the populace.

The insecurity of the Bourbons is little understood in America. It is
little understood even by those Americans who pass a few months in the
country, and in virtue of frequenting the _cafés_, and visiting the
theatres, fancy they know the people. Louis XVIII. was more than once on
the point of flying, again, between the year 1815 and his death; for
since the removal of the allied troops, there is really no force for a
monarch to depend on, more especially in and around the capital, the
army being quite as likely to take sides against them as for them.

The government has determined on exhibiting vigour, and there was a
great show of troops the night succeeding the combat. Curious to see the
effect of all this, two or three of us got into a carriage and drove
through the streets, about nine o'clock. We found some two or three
thousand men on the Boulevards, and the Rue St. Denis, in particular,
which had been the scene of the late disorder, was watched with jealous
caution. In all, there might have been four or five thousand men under
arms. They were merely in readiness, leaving a free passage for
carriages, though in some of the narrow streets we found the bayonets
pretty near our faces.

An American being supposed _ex officio_, as it were, to be a well-wisher
to the popular cause, there is, perhaps, a slight disposition to look at
us with distrust. The opinion of our _travellers'_ generally favouring
liberty is, in my judgment, singularly erroneous, the feelings of a
majority being, on the whole, just the other way, for, at least, the
first year or two of their European experience; though, I think, it is
to be noticed, by the end of that time, that they begin to lose sight of
the personal interests which, at home, have made them anything but
philosophers on such subjects, and to see and appreciate the immense
advantages of freedom over exclusion, although the predominance of the
former may not always favour their own particular views. Such, at least,
has been the result of my own observations, and so far from considering
a fresh arrival from home, as being likely to be an accession to our
little circle of liberal principles, I have generally deemed all such
individuals as being more likely to join the side of the aristocrats or
the exclusionists in politics. This is not the moment to enter into an
examination of the causes that have led to so singular a contradiction
between opinions and facts, though I think the circumstance is not to be
denied, for it is now my intention to give you an account of the manner
in which matters are managed here, rather than enter into long
investigations of the state of society at home.

Not long after my arrival in France, a visit was announced, from a
person who was entirely unknown to me, but who called himself a
_littérateur_. The first interview passed off as such interviews usually
do, and circumstances not requiring any return on my part, it was soon
forgotten. Within a fortnight, however, I received visit the second,
when the conversation took a political turn, my guest freely abusing the
Bourbons, the aristocrats, and the present state of things in France. I
did little more than listen. When the way was thus opened, I was asked
if I admired Sir Walter Scott, and particularly what I thought of
Ivanhoe, or, rather, if I did not think it an indifferent book. A little
surprised at such a question, I told my _littérateur_, that Ivanhoe
appeared to me to be very unequal, the first half being incomparably the
best, but that, as a whole, I thought it stood quite at the head of the
particular sort of romances to which it belonged. The Antiquary, and Guy
Mannering, for instance, were both much nearer perfection, and, on the
whole, I thought both better books; but Ivanhoe, especially its
commencement, was a noble poem. But did I not condemn the want of
historical truth in its pictures? I did not consider Ivanhoe as intended
to be history; it was a work of the imagination, in which all the
fidelity that was requisite, was enough to be probable and natural, and
that requisite I thought it possessed in an eminent degree. It is true,
antiquarians accused the author of having committed some anachronisms,
by confounding the usages of different centuries, which was perhaps a
greater fault, in such a work, than to confound mere individual
characters; but of this I did not pretend to judge, not being the least
of an antiquary myself. Did I not think he had done gross injustice to
the noble and useful order of the Templars? On this point I could say no
more than on the preceding, having but a very superficial knowledge of
the Templars, though I thought the probabilities seemed to be perfectly
well respected. Nothing could _seem_ to be more true, than Scott's
pictures. My guest then went into a long vindication of the Templars,
stating Scott had done them gross injustice, and concluding with an
exaggerated compliment, in which it was attempted to persuade me that I
was the man to vindicate the truth, and to do justice to at subject that
was so peculiarly connected with liberal principles. I disclaimed the
ability to undertake such a task, at all; confessed that I did not wish
to disturb the images which Sir Walter Scott had left, had I the
ability; and declared I did not see the connexion between his
accusation, admitting it to be true, and liberal principles.

My visitor soon after went away, and I saw no more of him for a week,
when he came again. On this occasion, he commenced by relating several
_piquant_ anecdotes of the Bourbons and their friends, gradually and
ingeniously leading the conversation, again, round to his favourite
Templars. After pushing me, for half an hour, on this point, always
insisting on my being the man to vindicate the order, and harping on its
connexion with liberty, he took advantage of one of my often-repeated
protestations of ignorance of the whole matter, suddenly to say, "Well,
then, Monsieur, go and see for yourself, and you will soon be satisfied
that my account of the order is true." "Go and see what?" "The
Templars." "There are no longer any." "They exist still." "Where?"
"Here, in Paris." "This is new to me: I do not understand it." "The
Templars exist; they possess documents to prove how much Scott has
misrepresented them, and - but, you will remember that the actual
government has so much jealousy of everything it does not control, that
secrecy is necessary - and, to be frank with you, M. - - , I am
commissioned by the Grand Master, to invite you to be present at a
secret meeting, this very week."

Of course, I immediately conjectured that some of the political
agitators of the day had assumed this taking guise, in order to combine
their means, and carry out their plans.[31] The proposition was gotten
rid of, by my stating, in terms that could not be misunderstood, that I
was a traveller, and did not wish to meddle with anything that required
secrecy, in a foreign government; that I certainly had my own political
notions, and if pushed, should not hesitate to avow them anywhere; that
the proper place for a writer to declare his sentiments, was in his
books, unless under circumstances which authorized him to act; that I
did not conceive foreigners were justifiable in going beyond this; that
I never had meddled with the affairs of foreign countries, and that I
never would; and that the fact of this society's being secret, was
sufficient to deter me from visiting it. With this answer, my guest
departed, and he never came again.

[Footnote 31: Since the revolution of 1830, these Templars have made
public, but abortive efforts, to bring themselves into notice, by
instituting some ceremonies, in which they appeared openly in their
robes.]

Now, the first impression was, as I have told you, and I supposed my
visitor, although a man of fifty, was one of those who innocently lent
himself to these silly exaggerations; either as a dupe, or to dupe
others. I saw reason, however, to change this opinion.

At the time these visits occurred, I scarcely knew any one in Paris, and
was living in absolute retirement - being, as you know already, quite
without letters. About ten days after I saw the last of my
_littérateur_, I got a letter from a high functionary of the government,
sending me a set of valuable medals. The following day these were
succeeded by his card, and an invitation to dinner. Soon after, another
person, notoriously connected with court intrigues, sought me out, and
overwhelmed me with civilities. In a conversation that shortly after
occurred between us, this person gave a pretty direct intimation, that
by pushing a little, a certain decoration that is usually conferred on
literary men was to be had, if it were desired. I got rid of all these
things, in the straight-forward manner, that is the best for upsetting
intrigues; and having really nothing to conceal, I was shortly permitted
to take my own course.

I have now little doubt that the _littérateur_ was a _spy_, sent either
to sound me on some points connected with Lafayette and the republicans,
or possibly to lead me into some difficulty, though I admit that this is
no more than conjecture. I give you the facts, which, at the time,
struck me as, at least, odd, and you may draw your own conclusions.
This, however, is but one of a dozen adventures, more or less similar,
that have occurred, and I think it well to mention it, by way of giving
you an insight into what sometimes happens here.[32]

[Footnote 32: A conversation, which took place after the revolution of
1830, with one of the parties named, leaves little doubt as to the truth
of the original conjecture.]

My rule has been, whenever I am pushed on the subject of politics, to
deal honestly and sincerely with all with whom I am brought in contact,
and in no manner to leave the impression, that I think the popular form
of government an unavoidable evil, to which America is obliged to
submit. I do not shut my eyes to the defects of our own system, or to
the bad consequences that flow from it, and from it alone; but, the more
I see of other countries, the more I am persuaded, that, under
circumstances which admit but of a choice of evils, we are greatly the
gainers by having adopted it. Although I do not believe every other
nation is precisely fitted to imitate us, I think it is their misfortune
they are not so. If the inhabitants of other countries do not like to
hear such opinions, they should avoid the subject with Americans.

It is very much the custom here, whenever the example of America is
quoted in favour of the practicability of republican institutions, to
attribute our success to the fact of society's being so simple, and the
people so virtuous. I presume I speak within bounds, when I say that I
have heard the latter argument urged a hundred times, during the last
eighteen months. One lady, in particular, who is exceedingly clever, but
who has a dread of all republics, on account of having lost a near
friend during the reign of terror, was especially in the practice of
resorting to this argument, whenever, in our frequent playful
discussions of the subject, I have succeeded in disturbing her
inferences, by citing American facts. "Mais, Monsieur, l'Amérique est si
jeune, et vous avez les vertus que nous manquons," etc. etc. has always
been thought a sufficient answer. Now I happen to be one of those who do
not entertain such extravagant notions of the exclusive and peculiar
virtues of our own country. Nor have I been so much struck with the
profound respect of the Europeans, in general, for those very qualities
that, nevertheless, are always quoted as the reason of the success of
what is called the "American experiment." Quite the contrary: I have
found myself called on, more than once, to repel accusations against our
morality of a very serious nature; accusations that we do not deserve;
and my impression certainly is, that the American people, so far as they
are at all the subjects of observation, enjoy anything but a good name,
in Europe. Struck by this flagrant contradiction, I determined to
practise on my female friend, a little; a plan that was successfully
carried out, as follows.

Avoiding all allusion to politics, so as to throw her completely off her
guard, I took care to introduce such subjects as should provoke
comparisons on other points, between France and America; or rather,
between the latter and Europe generally. As our discussions had a tinge
of philosophy, neither being very bigoted, and both preserving perfect
good humour, the plot succeeded admirably. After a little time, I took
occasion to fortify one of my arguments by a slight allusion to the
peculiar virtues of the American people. She was too well-bred to
controvert this sort of reasoning at first, until, pushing the point,
little by little, she was so far provoked as to exclaim, "You lay great
stress on the exclusive virtues of your countrymen, Monsieur, but I have
yet to learn that they are so much better than the rest of the world!"
"I beg a thousand pardons, Madame, if I have been led into an
indiscretion on this delicate subject; but you must ascribe my error to
your own eloquence, which, contrary to my previous convictions, had
persuaded me into the belief that we have some peculiar unction of this
nature, that is unknown in Europe. I now begin to see the mistake, and
to understand "que nous autres Américains" are to be considered
_virtuous_ only where there is question of the practicability of
maintaining republican form of government, and as great rogues on all
other occasions." Madame de - - was wise enough, and good-tempered
enough, to laugh at the artifice, and the allusion to "nous autres
vertueux" has got to be a _mot d'ordre_ with us. The truth is, that the
question of politics is exclusively one of personal advantages, with a
vast majority of the people of Europe; one set selfishly struggling to
maintain their present superiority, while the other is as selfishly, and
in some respects as blindly, striving to overturn all that is
established, in order to be benefited by the scramble that will follow;
and religion, justice, philosophy, and practical good are almost equally
remote from the motives of both parties.

From reflecting on such subjects, I have been led into a consideration
of the influence of political institutions on the more ordinary
relations of society. If the conclusions are generally in favour of
popular rights, and what is called freedom, there can be little question
that there are one or two weak spots, on our side of the question, that
it were better did they not exist. Let us, for the humour of the thing,
look a little into these points.

It is a common remark of all foreigners, that there is less social
freedom in America than in most other countries of Christendom. By
social freedom, I do not mean as relates to the mere forms of society,
for in these we are loose rather than rigid; but that one is less a
master of his own acts, his own mode of living, his own time, being more
rigidly amenable to public opinion, on all these points, than elsewhere.
The fact, I believe, out of all question, is true; at least it appears
to be true, so far as my knowledge of our own and of other countries
extends. Admitting then the fact to be so, it is worth while to throw
away a moment in inquiring into the consequent good and evil of such a
state of things, as well as in looking for the causes. It is always a
great assistant in our study of others, to have some tolerable notions
of ourselves.

The control of public opinion has, beyond question, a salutary influence
on the moral _exterior_ of a country. The great indifference which the
French, and indeed the higher classes of most European countries,
manifest to the manner of living of the members of their different
circles, so long as certain appearances are respected, may do no
affirmative good to society, though at the same time it does less
positive harm than you may be disposed to imagine. But this is not the
point to which I now allude. Europeans maintain that, in things
_innocent in themselves_, but which are closely connected with the
independence of action and tastes of men, the American is less his own
master than the inhabitant of this part of the world; and this is the
fact I, for one, feel it necessary to concede to them. There can be no
doubt that society meddles much more with the private affairs of
individuals, and affairs, too, over which it properly has no control, in
America than in Europe. I will illustrate what I mean, by an example.

About twenty years since there lived in one of our shiretowns a family,
which, in its different branches, had numerous female descendants, then
all children. A member of this family, one day, went to a respectable
clergyman, his friend, and told him that he and his connexions had so
many female children, whom it was time to think of educating, that they
had hit upon the plan of engaging some suitable instructress, with the
intention of educating their girls all together, both for economy's sake
and for convenience, as well as that such near connexions might be
brought up in a way to strengthen the family tie. The clergyman warmly
remonstrated against the scheme, assuring his friend, _that the
community would not bear it, and that it would infallibly make enemies!_
This was the feeling of a very sensible man, and of an experienced
divine, and I was myself the person making the application. This is
religiously true, and I have often thought of the circumstance since,
equally with astonishment and horror.

There are doubtless many parts of America, even, where such an
interference with the private arrangement of a family would not be
dreamt of; but there is a large portion of the country in which the
feeling described by my clerical friend does prevail. Most observers
would refer all this to democracy, but I do not. The interference would
not proceed from the humblest classes of society at all, but from those
nearer one's own level. It would proceed from a determination to bring
all within the jurisdiction of a common opinion, or to be revenged on
delinquents, by envy, hatred, and all uncharitableness. There is no
disposition in America, to let one live as he or she may happen to
please to live; the public choosing, though always in its proper circle,
to interfere and say _how_ you must live. It is folly to call this by
terms as sounding as republicanism or democracy, which inculcate the
doctrine of as much personal freedom as at all comports with the public
good. He is, indeed, a most sneaking democrat, who finds it necessary to
consult a neighbourhood before he can indulge his innocent habits and
tastes. It is sheer _meddling_, and no casuistry can fitly give it any
other name.

A portion of this troublesome quality is owing, beyond question, to our
provincial habits, which are always the most exacting; but I think a
large portion, perhaps I ought to say the largest, is inherited from
those pious but exaggerated religionists who first peopled the country.
These sectaries extended the discipline of the church to all the
concerns of life. Nothing was too minute to escape their cognizance, and
a parish sat in judgment on the affairs of all who belonged to it. One
may easily live so long in the condition of society that such an origin
has entailed on us, as to be quite unconscious of its peculiarities, but
I think they can hardly escape one who has lived much beyond its
influence.

Here, perhaps, the fault is to be found in the opposite extreme; though
there are so many virtues consequent on independence of thought and
independence of habits, that I am not sure the good does not equal the
evil. There is no canting, and very little hypocrisy, in mere matters of
habits, in France; and this, at once, is abridging two of our own most
besetting vices. Still the French can hardly be called a very original
people. Convention ties them down mercilessly in a great many things.
They are less under the influence of mere fashion, in their intercourse,
it is true, than some of their neighbours, reason and taste exercising
more influence over such matters, in France, than almost anywhere else;
but they are mannerists in the fine arts, in their literature, and in
all their _feelings_, if one can use such an expression. The gross
exaggerations of the romantic school that is, just now, attracting so
much attention, are merely an effort to liberate themselves. But, after
allowing for the extreme ignorance of the substratum of society, which,
in France, although it forms so large a portion of the whole, should no
more be taken into the account in speaking of the national qualities,
than the slaves of Carolina should be included in an estimate of the
character of the Carolinians, there is, notwithstanding this mannerism,
a personal independence here, that certainly does not exist with us. The
American goes and comes when he pleases, and no one asks for a passport;
he has his political rights, talks of his liberty, swaggers of his
advantages, and yet does less as he pleases, even in innocent things,
than the Frenchman. His neighbours form a police, and a most troublesome
and impertinent one it sometimes proves to be. It is also unjust, for
having no legal means of arriving at facts, it half the time condemns on
conjecture.

The truth is, our institutions are the result of facts and accidents,
and, being necessarily an imitative people, there are often gross
inconsistencies between our professions and our practice; whereas the
French have had to struggle through their apprenticeship in political
rights, by the force of discussions and appeals to reason, and theory is
still too important to be entirely overlooked. Perhaps no people



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 27 of 29)