Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 online

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Where wide its fringèd eyelids love to ope.

You cannot set a foot upon the ground
On warm September noons, in this old croft,
But there some satiny blossom crushed is found,
Swift springing up to look again aloft.

Prized! sung of poets! sought for singly where
Adventurous feet may hardly dare to climb!
Here, scattered lavishly and without care,
In all the sweet luxuriance of their prime.

Ah! how the yellow-thighed, brown-coated bee
Dives prodigally into those blue deeps
Of glistening, odorless satin fair to see,
And soon forgetting wherefore, trancèd, sleeps!

And how the golden butterflies skim over,
And poise, all fondly, on these lifted lips,
Leaving the riches of the sweet red clover
For the blue gentians' fine and fairy tips!

Beautiful wildlings, proud, refined and shy!
Mysteries ye are, have been, and yet shall be:
The secrets of your being in ye lie,
And no man yet hath found their hidden key.

Might we not laugh at our world's vaunted lore,
For ever boasting, "This, and this, I know"?
Not all the science of its hard-won store
Can make one single fringèd gentian grow.


There is a magnetism in places which has as strong and subtle a potency
as that which belongs to certain persons. Newport, Rhode Island, is not
an inapt example of the class of which I speak. The wonderful mildness
of the air, coupled with its exhilarating qualities; the fertility of
the soil, which throws tropical vegetation over the stern realism of
crag and precipice; the mixture of the wildest features of Nature with
its softest and most intoxicating influences, - all these anomalies,
unexplained even by the proximity of the itself inexplicable Gulf
Stream, combine to form a perfect and most desirable whole. Nor is this
description over-colored or the offshoot of the latter-day caprice that
has made of the place a fashionable resort. The very name of the State
suggests that of a classic island famed for its atmosphere; and as
Verrazano, writing in 1524, compares Block Island to Rhodes, it is
possible that hence arose its title. Neal in 1717, and the Abbé Robin
in 1771, both speak of Newport as the Paradise of New England, and
endorse its Indian appellation, Aquidneck, or the Isle of Peace.
Berkeley, dean of Derry, who came here in 1729 full of zealous but
utopian plans of proselytism, writes of it that "the climate is warmer
than Italy, and far preferable to Bermuda" (his original destination).
Indeed, it is to the good man's enthusiasm for Newport that we owe his
burst of poetical prophecy, "Westward the course of empire takes its

If the staid and reverend Berkeley, he whom Swift, writing to Lord
Carteret, recommends as "one of the first men in the kingdom for
learning and virtue," and of whom Pope exclaims, "To Berkeley every
virtue under heaven," found here this fascination, what wonder that
more excitable pilgrims of Latin blood made of it a Mecca? The French
particularly came often to Newport in early colonial days, and have
left jottings of their stay and the pleasure it afforded them. Monsieur
de Crèvecoeur visited it in 1772, and found delight in its natural
beauties. He notes the bay and harbor, the approach to which he
considers remarkably fine, and admires the acacia and plane trees which
line the roads, all of which, unfortunately, were destroyed during the
Revolution. The young attaché of the French legation of to-day, who
chafes at the diplomatic duties which delay his shaking off the dust of
Washington for the delights of Newport, hardly comprehends how much
heredity has to do with his appreciation of it. He does not stop to
think, as he sips his post-prandial coffee at Hartman's window, of the
line of French chivalry that a century ago made their favorite
promenade by the spot where he now sits. His mind, running on Mrs.
A - - 's ball or Mrs. B - - 's lawn-tennis, is far from dreaming of the
irresistible De Lauzun, the gallant De Fersen, a fugitive from the love
of a queen, but destined to serve her as lackey in her need, the two
handsome Viosmenils, the baron Cromot du Bourg, the duc de Deux-Ponts,
or any of the brilliant cortége of a bygone day. But what memories the
mere enumeration of their names brings up! Rank and valor were the
heritage of all of them, an heroic but unhappy end the fate of most.
Who can say that the aroma of their presence does not still linger
round the old town, up and down the narrow streets where they passed
with gay jests and clanking sword, or in the quaint mansions, still
peeping out from behind century-old hedges, where they left the record
of their graces in the heart of their host and of their loves on his
window-pane? What can be pleasanter than for the American pen to linger
over the page of history that chronicles the generous sympathy which
brought this fine flower of France to our shores? Where is the heart,
even in our cynical nineteenth century, which holds enthusiasm an
anachronism, that does not thrill at the recollection of the chivalry
that quitted the luxury and revels of Versailles to dare the dangers of
an ocean-voyage (then no ten-day pleasure-trip) for a cause that still
hung in the balances of success? Viewed practically, the help offered
was even more deserving of praise. The French are not an adventurous
nation: they are not fond of travelling. Hugo says Paris is the world,
and to the average Frenchman it embodies the world it comprises: it
_is_ the world. Expatriated, he would rather dwell, like the poet, on a
barren island within sight of the shores of France than seek or find
new worlds to conquer. It must therefore be conceded that the sentiment
which brought us our allies in 1780 was a hearty one, nor had they
encouragement from the example of others; for, although La Fayette,
young and full of ardor, had fired the hearts of his compatriots, and
made it the fashion to help us even before the alliance in 1778, yet
the expedition of that year under the comte d'Estaing had been an utter
failure. There was, however, a strong incentive which brought the young
nobles of the time to us, and that was the one which the old
philosopher declared to be at the bottom of every case - a woman. In
this particular instance the prestige was heightened by the fact that
she was also a queen. Marie Antoinette was then at the zenith of her
beauty and power. The timid, shrinking dauphiness, forced to the arms
of an unwilling husband, himself a mere cipher, had expanded into a
fascinating woman, reigning triumphantly over the court and the
affections of her vacillating spouse. The birth, after years of
wedlock, of several children completed her conquest and gave her the
dominion she craved, and she now threw her influence unreservedly into
the balance for the American colonies, little dreaming she was therein
laying the first stone toward her own ruin.

On the 6th of February, 1778, the treaty between the United States and
France was signed, followed in July of the same year by a declaration
from the king protecting neutral ships, although bound for hostile
ports and carrying contraband goods. Meanwhile, on the 13th of April,
the French fleet had sailed from Toulon under the command of D'Estaing,
who had with him on the Languedoc, his flagship, a regularly appointed
envoy, Girard de Rayneville, who had full power to recognize the
independence of the States, Silas Deane, one of the American
commissioners, and such well-known officers as the comte de la
Motte-Piquet, the Bailli de Suffren, De Guichen, D'Orvilliers, De
Grasse and others. The history of this first expedition is a short and
disastrous one. The voyage was long, owing to the ships being unequally
matched in speed, and it was ninety days after leaving Toulon before
they anchored in Delaware Bay. D'Estaing had hoped to surprise Lord
Howe, who was guarding the mouth of the Delaware to strengthen the
position of Sir Henry Clinton at Philadelphia, but when the fleet
arrived Clinton had evacuated Philadelphia, and was in the harbor of
New York. Here the French admiral followed him, but, finding no pilots
at Sandy Hook willing to take him over the bar, he on Washington's
recommendation proceeded to Rhode Island to co-operate with Sullivan,
who was in command of the army there, which was divided into two
brigades under Generals Greene and La Fayette. On the 29th of July,
1778, the French fleet appeared off Newport, to the delight of the
inhabitants, who were suffering from the English occupation, and saw in
prospect an end to their troubles. But, alas! their joy was premature.
Sullivan was so slow in moving that the moment for action was lost.
Lord Howe, having received reinforcements, appeared off Point Judith,
where D'Estaing tried to meet and give him battle; but a hurricane
coming up, both fleets were obliged to spend their energies in saving
themselves from destruction, and before the storm passed the French
ships were so scattered that all hope of success had to be abandoned.
D'Estaing found himself on the 13th of August separated from his
convoy, and his ship, Le Languedoc, bereft of rudder and masts, forced
to an encounter with three English vessels. His fleet rallied round
him, but it was too late after a disastrous action to do anything but
repair damages: in fact, Lord Howe had already reached Sandy Hook.
D'Estaing appeared off Newport on the 20th to announce that he should
be obliged by instructions to go to Boston for provisions and water,
and thus ended the first visit of the French to Newport, to the dismay
of the inhabitants. Sullivan criticised D'Estaing severely, but was
obliged by La Fayette to retract: indeed, it is a question whether the
fault of failure lay in Sullivan's procrastination or in want of
judgment on the part of the French commander, who nevertheless, on his
return to France, interested himself to induce the government to send
out twelve thousand men to America. La Fayette also, through his
friendship with Vergennes, exerted himself toward the same end, the
proposition being not unfavorably received by the government, which
merely demurred as to the number of troops required. Before leaving
France, however, La Fayette had secured full consent to the expedition,
and on him devolved the grateful task of bearing to Congress and
Washington the news of the co-operation of that country. The fleet was
prepared at Brest, and was placed under Admiral de Ternay, the command
of the troops being given to the comte de Rochambeau, not through court
favor, but in consideration of the affection of the army for him.

Jean Baptiste de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau and marshal of France, was
born in Vendôme in 1725. At sixteen he served under the maréchal de
Broglie, was afterward aide to the duc d'Orléans, and distinguished
himself in the battles of Crevelt, Minden, Closterkamp and Corbach,
being seriously wounded several times. A thorough soldier, Rochambeau
possessed not only courage, but a clear, practical eye, accompanied by
foresight and judgment. His memoirs show him to have taken more kindly
to the camp than the court, and outside of war to have been fond of the
sports of a country gentleman. His appearance in Trumbull's picture of
the surrender of Cornwallis shows us more of a Cincinnatus than of an
Alexander. He was reserved in his manner, even with his officers, and
De Fersen, writing to his father, complains of it, acknowledging,
however, that it was shown less with him than with others. Later on he
does Rochambeau justice, and says: "His example had its effect on the
army, and the severe orders he gave restrained everybody and enforced
that discipline which was the admiration of the Americans and of the
English who witnessed it. The wise, prudent and simple conduct of M. de
Rochambeau has done more to conciliate America to us than the gain of
four battles."

With this representative soldier of his time came so fine a showing of
the noblesse of France, fresh from the most brilliant court of Europe,
that they are worth a short description. They are interesting, if from
nothing else, from the fact that they are the men who appear on the
page of history one day steeped in the enervating luxury and intrigue
of Versailles and Marly, the next fighting and dying with the courage
of the lionhearted Henri de la Rochejaquelin in Vendée, leaving as an
epitaph on their whole generation the words of the Chouan chief,
"Allons chercher l'ennemi! Si je recule, tuez moi; si j'avance, suivez
moi; si je meurs, vengez moi!" Never even in Napoleon's campaigns,
where each man had as incentive a name and fortune to carve, was there
such a race of soldiers as these same aristocrats.

First and foremost, let us mention Armand Louis de Gontaut, duc de
Lauzun, the duc de Biron of the Vendée. He was the gayest gallant of
the time, and whether with the Polish princess Czartoriski, the
beautiful Lady Sarah Bunbury - George III.'s admiration as he saw her
making hay at Holland House - Mesdames de Stainville and de Coig and the
rollicking actresses of the Comédie Française, or Mrs. Robinson (the
prince of Wales's "Perdita,"), seems to have had universal success. We
except the record that gives him the love of Marie Antoinette. To him
was entrusted in this expedition the legion that bore his name, with
Count Arthur Dillon as coadjutor. The maréchals-de-camp were the two
brothers Viosmenil, celebrated for their beauty, and the marquis de
Chastelleux, a member of the Institute and possessed of some literary
merit. He had written a piece called _La Félicité publique_, which drew
from the wits of the day the following epigram:

À Chastelleux la place académique:
Qu' a-t-il donc fait? Un livre bien conçu.
Vous l'appelez _La Félicité publique_;
Le public fut heureux, car il n'en a rien su.

He printed twenty-four impressions of his travels in America by the aid
of a printing-press on the squadron, the first record of a book having
been published privately in the colonies. The aides of De Rochambeau
were the handsome Swede Count de Fersen, the marquis de Vauban, Charles
de Lamette (who fought a famous duel in the Bois de Boulogne with the
duc de Castries), De Dumas and De Laubedières: De Tarli was intendant.
The list of officers comprised such historic names as those of the
marquis de Laval-Montmorenci, the duc de Deux-Ponts (colonel of the
regiment raised in Alsace that bore his name), his two brothers,
Vicomte de Chartres, De Custine, D'Olonne, De Montesquieu and the
vicomte de Noailles. The last named had, as ambassador to England, the
task entrusted to him of bearing to Lord Weymouth the news of the
French alliance with America.

The fleet which appeared off Newport on the 11th of July, 1780,
comprised seven ships of the line - the Duc de Bourgogne, Neptune,
Conquérant, Provence, Eveillé, Jason and Ardent - the frigates
Surveillante, Amazone and Gentille, the corvette Fantasque (which was a
hospital-ship) and the cutter La Guêpe. There were thirty-two
transports with the expeditionary corps of five thousand men. Admiral
de Ternay, wisely profiting by D'Estaing's experience, lost no time in
reaching his destination. He was welcomed by the sight of the French
flag planted both on Point Judith and Newport Point, this being the
signal agreed on with La Fayette that all was well. Only a few days
later he would have been intercepted by an English squadron, Admiral
Graves having sailed from Portsmouth early in the season, intending to
prevent the French reaching Newport, but his plans were deranged by the
bad weather. The squadron entered the beautiful harbor of Newport with
flying flags and pennons bright with the golden fleur-de-lys of France.

From the earliest days of the colony Newport had taken a prominent
place in its history. Its natural advantages had early singled it out
for both commercial and social distinction. One of the first governors,
Coddington, was its original settler. An openly-avowed freedom from
prejudice was among the first declared principles of Rhode Island.
Quakers and Jews were gladly received, and while the former brought
with them the temperance and moderation peculiar to their tenets, the
latter grafted on Newport commerce the spirit of enterprise which made
the town celebrated in colonial annals for its prosperity and
importance. The Jewish merchants were men of good origin, fine presence
and character. They were many of them of high birth in Spain and
Portugal, and they have bequeathed to posterity a record of stately
hospitality and unblemished integrity. The names of Lopez, Riviera,
Seixas and Touro are honored and respected still in their former home,
and the fine arch that towers over the gay promenade of to-day gives
entrance to their last resting-place, so solemn and so majestic a home
of the dead that it drew from the Nestor of American poets a stirring
apostrophe to the manes of the dead sons of Israel. The fine harbor and
bay of Newport soon attracted commerce from all nations, which heaped
its wharves with riches and made princes and magnates of its
merchants - a position they seemed born to sustain. The Overings,
Bannisters, Malbones and Redwoods kept open house and exercised lavish
hospitality - witness, as told by the Newport _Herald_ of June 7, 1766,
the story of Colonel Godfrey Malbone's feast on the lawn of his burning
mansion, so fine an edifice that its cost had been a hundred thousand
dollars in 1744; but the house taking fire at the time he had invited
guests to dinner, he thus feasted rather than disappoint them, and all
through the long summer night they held high revel and pledged each
other in jovial toasts while the flames of the burning building
illumined these Sardanapalian orgies. Year after year added to the
importance of this city by the sea: year after year the Indies poured
into its warehouses the riches with which Newport, out of its
abundance, dowered New York, Boston and Hartford and ornamented and
enriched the stately homes of its merchants. There is, however, one
blot on its scutcheon - one which darkens the picture of this prosperity
and the means that helped make it - and that is the slave-trade. Yes,
the town which was to give birth to William Ellery Channing was one of
the first to become interested in this baleful traffic. It is true it
was denounced by the Legislature, which as early as 1652 made it penal
to hold slaves, yet statistics show that between 1730 and 1752 the
return cargoes of all ships from the West Indies consisted of them. The
slave-trade of Newport bore fruit in other evils. At this time there
were no less than forty distilleries at work, and this rum, exported to
Africa, bought and brought home the human freight. However, in 1774 the
importation was prohibited, and all male children born after 1784 were
declared to be free.

Nowhere was there a more courtly and elegant society than in Newport.
The rules of etiquette were rigorously adhered to, and there was no
jesting on so sacred a topic as the honor and respect due to those whom
the good rector of Trinity was wont to allude to as moving in higher
spheres. De Ségur a year or two later says of it: "Other parts of
America were only beautiful by anticipation, but Rhode Island was
complete. Newport, well and regularly built, contained a numerous
population, whose happiness was indicated by its prosperity. It offered
delightful circles composed of enlightened men and modest and handsome
women, whose talents heightened their personal attractions." To-day,
Newport is the rendezvous of the best society of the land. Handsome
women and clever men meet and greet there, but can the society be more
distinguished than, from this description, it must have been a century
ago? We wonder if the stately dames who in the eighteenth century held
court here would quite approve of the _laissez-aller_ of modern
intercourse. The youth of to-day, whose highest praise for his fair
partner of the cotillon is often that she is "an awfully good fellow,"
has little kinship with his ancestor, who used to wait at the
street-corner to see the object of his devotion go by under the convoy
of her father and mother and a couple of faithful colored footmen,
thinking himself happy meanwhile if his divinity gave him a shy glance.
The gay girl of the period, who scampers in her pony chaise down the
avenue from one engagement to the other, and whose most sacred
confidence is apt to be that she adores horses and loves "pottering
about the stable," is, with all her charms, quite different from the
blushing little beauty of 1780, who in powdered hair, quilted petticoat
and high, red-heeled shoes gave her lover a modest little glance at the
street-corner, thinking it a most delicious and unforeseen bit of
romance to have a lover at all. But other times other manners, and
nineteenth-century men and women are no doubt as charming in their way
as were our pretty ancestresses and their gallants of a century ago.

The prosperity of Newport received a check from the Revolution. The
English occupation resulted in a vandalism that destroyed the fine
mansions, turned public buildings, and even Trinity Church, into
barracks for the soldiers and stables for their horses, laid waste the
country, cut down the trees and obliterated the landmarks. Thus the
French found it, and they were welcomed as possible deliverers and
defenders from the English rule. Rochambeau and his staff reached
Newport in the frigate Hermione on the afternoon of the 11th of July,
and the next day the troops were landed, many of them being ill and all
in need of rest after the long voyage and cramped quarters. The forts
were put in possession of the French, who proceeded to remodel them
into a better condition to resist a siege. General Heath, hearing at
Providence the news of the arrival of the fleet, came down to Newport
to greet Rochambeau, whom he met on shore, going afterward on board the
Duc de Bourgogne to see the admiral, who in return saluted the town
with thirteen guns. On the evening of the 12th Rochambeau dined with
General Heath, a grand illumination of the town taking place afterward,
and each day saw some new festivity to welcome the guests who had made
the American cause their own. The army had been stationed across the
island guarding the town, the right toward the ships and the left upon
the sea, Rochambeau thus carefully covering the position of his vessels
by the batteries. Everything was _en fête_. The people were delighted
with the manners and courtly polish of the French. Robin says of the
discipline insisted on at Newport, "The officers employed politeness
and amenity, the common soldiers became mild, circumspect and
moderate." The French at Newport were no longer the frivolous race,
presumptuous, noisy, full of fatuity, they were reputed to be. They
lived quietly and retired, limiting their society to their hosts, to
whom every day they became dearer. These young nobles of birth and
fortune, to whom a sojourn at court must have given a taste for
dissipation and luxury, were the first to set an example of frugality
and simplicity of life. They showed themselves affable, popular, as if
they had never lived but with men who were on an equality. Every one
was won, even the Tories, and their departure saddened even more than
their arrival had alarmed. Rochambeau also alludes to the discipline of
the army, and says: "It was due to the zeal of the generals and
superior officers, and above all to the goodwill of the soldiers. It
contributed not a little to make the State of Rhode Island acquiesce in
the proposition I made it, to repair at our expense the mansions which
the English had mutilated, so that they might serve as barracks for the
soldiers if the inhabitants would lodge the officers. We spent twenty
thousand crowns in repairing the houses, and left in the place many
marks of the generosity of France toward its allies."

We have before us an old plan of Newport in 1777, and a list of the
officers' hosts. We find the general quartered at 302 New lane, corner
of Clark and Mary streets. Its proprietor, William Hunter, was
president of the Eastern Navy Board at Boston and an earnest upholder
of the rights of the colonies. The gallant and all-conquering Lauzun
was at the widow Deborah Hunter's, No. 264 Thames street. Mrs. Hunter
was the mother of two charming daughters, whom Lauzun eulogizes in his
journal. His praise has been often quoted, yet it is worth repeating,
as it shows this Lovelace in a new and pleasing light. He says: "Mrs.

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Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 → online text (page 14 of 20)