A BUNDLE OF LETTERS
FROM MISS MIRANDA MOPE, IN
September 5th, 1879.
My dear mother—I have kept you posted as far as Tuesday week last, and, although my letter will not have reached you yet, I will begin another before my news accumulates too much. I am glad you show my letters round in the family, for I like them all to know what I am doing, and I can’t write to every one, though I try to answer all reasonable expectations. But there are a great many unreasonable ones, as I suppose you know—not yours, dear mother, for I am bound to say that you never required of me more than was natural. You see you are reaping your reward: I write to you before I write to any one else.
There is one thing, I hope—that you don’t show any of my letters to William Platt. If he wants to see any of my letters, he knows the right way to go to work. I wouldn’t have him see one of these letters, written for circulation in the family, for anything in the world. If he wants one for himself, he has got to write to me first. Let him write to me first, and then I will see about answering him. You can show him this if you like; but if you show him anything more, I will never write to you again.
I told you in my last about my farewell to
I gave you my first impressions of
I have received a great deal of politeness—some of it really most
pressing, and I have experienced no drawbacks whatever. I have made a
great many pleasant acquaintances in travelling round
(both ladies and gentlemen), and had a great many most interesting talks.
I have collected a great deal of information, for which I refer you to my
journal. I assure you my journal is going to be a splendid thing. I
do just exactly as I do in Bangor, and I find I do perfectly right; and at any
rate, I don’t care if I don’t. I didn’t come to Europe
to lead a merely conventional life; I could do that at
I meet a great many Americans, who, as a general thing, I must say, are not
as polite to me as the people over here. The people over
here—especially the gentlemen—are much more what I should call attentive.
I don’t know whether Americans are more sincere; I haven’t
yet made up my mind about that. The only drawback I experience is when
Americans sometimes express surprise that I should be travelling
round alone; so you see it doesn’t come from Europeans. I always
have my answer ready; “For general culture, to acquire the languages, and
FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME.
Since I last wrote to you I have left that hotel, and come to live in a
French family. It’s a kind of boarding-house combined with a kind
of school; only it’s not like an American
hoarding-house, nor like an American school either. There are four
or five people here that have come to learn the language—not to take
lessons, but to have an opportunity for conversation. I was very glad to
come to such a place, for I had begun to realise that
I was not making much progress with the French. It seemed to me that I
should feel ashamed to have spent two months in
I have been thinking some of taking a teacher, but I am well acquainted with
the grammar already, and teachers always keep you bothering over the
verbs. I was a good deal troubled, for I felt as if I didn’t want
to go away without having, at least, got a general idea of French
conversation. The theatre gives you a good deal of insight, and as I told
you in my last, I go a good deal to places of amusement. I find no
difficulty whatever in going to such places alone, and am always treated with
the politeness which, as I told you before, I encounter everywhere. I see
plenty of other ladies alone (mostly French), and they generally seem to be
enjoying themselves as much as I. But at the theatre every one talks so
fast that I can scarcely make out what they say; and, besides, there are a
great many vulgar expressions which it is unnecessary to learn. But it
was the theatre, nevertheless, that put me on the track. The very next
day after I wrote to you last I went to the Palais
Royal, which is one of the principal theatres in
“Well,” said one of them, “it all depends on what you are after. I’m French; that’s what I’m after.”
“Well,” said the other, “I’m after Art.”
“Well,” said the first, “I’m after Art too; but I’m after French most.”
Then, dear mother, I am sorry to say the second one swore a little. He said, “Oh, damn French!”
“No, I won’t damn French,” said his friend. “I’ll acquire it—that’s what I’ll do with it. I’ll go right into a family.”
“What family’ll you go into?”
“Into some French family. That’s the only way to do—to go to some place where you can talk. If you’re after Art, you want to stick to the galleries; you want to go right through the Louvre, room by room; you want to take a room a day, or something of that sort. But, if you want to acquire French, the thing is to look out for a family. There are lots of French families here that take you to board and teach you. My second cousin—that young lady I told you about—she got in with a crowd like that, and they booked her right up in three months. They just took her right in and they talked to her. That’s what they do to you; they set you right down and they talk at you. You’ve got to understand them; you can’t help yourself. That family my cousin was with has moved away somewhere, or I should try and get in with them. They were very smart people, that family; after she left, my cousin corresponded with them in French. But I mean to find some other crowd, if it takes a lot of trouble!”
I listened to all this with great interest, and when he spoke about his cousin I was on the point of turning around to ask him the address of the family that she was with; but the next moment he said they had moved away; so I sat still. The other gentleman, however, didn’t seem to be affected in the same way as I was.
“Well,” he said, “you may follow up that if you like; I
mean to follow up the pictures. I don’t believe there is ever going
to be any considerable demand in the
That remark may be very true, but I don’t care anything about the demand; I want to know French for its own sake. I don’t want to think I have been all this while without having gained an insight . . . The very next day, I asked the lady who kept the books at the hotel whether she knew of any family that could take me to board and give me the benefit of their conversation. She instantly threw up her hands, with several little shrill cries (in their French way, you know), and told me that her dearest friend kept a regular place of that kind. If she had known I was looking out for such a place she would have told me before; she had not spoken of it herself, because she didn’t wish to injure the hotel by being the cause of my going away. She told me this was a charming family, who had often received American ladies (and others as well) who wished to follow up the language, and she was sure I should be delighted with them. So she gave me their address, and offered to go with me to introduce me. But I was in such a hurry that I went off by myself; and I had no trouble in finding these good people. They were delighted to receive me, and I was very much pleased with what I saw of them. They seemed to have plenty of conversation, and there will be no trouble about that.
I came here to stay about three days ago, and by this time I have seen a great deal of them. The price of board struck me as rather high; but I must remember that a quantity of conversation is thrown in. I have a very pretty little room—without any carpet, but with seven mirrors, two clocks, and five curtains. I was rather disappointed after I arrived to find that there are several other Americans here for the same purpose as myself. At least there are three Americans and two English people; and also a German gentleman. I am afraid, therefore, our conversation will be rather mixed, but I have not yet time to judge. I try to talk with Madame de Maisonrouge all I can (she is the lady of the house, and the real family consists only of herself and her two daughters). They are all most elegant, interesting women, and I am sure we shall become intimate friends. I will write you more about them in my next. Tell William Platt I don’t care what he does.
FROM MISS VIOLET RAY, IN
We had hardly got here when father received a telegram saying he would have
to come right back to
There are families here who receive American and English people to live with
them, under the pretence of teaching them French. You may imagine what
people they are—I mean the families themselves. But the Americans
who choose this peculiar manner of seeing
As for my French, it is quite as perfect as I want it to be. (I assure
you I am often surprised at my own fluency, and, when I get a little more
practice in the genders and the idioms, I shall do very well in this
respect.) To make a long story short, however, father carried his point,
as usual; mother basely deserted me at the last moment, and, after holding out
alone for three days, I told them to do with me what they pleased! Father
lost three steamers in succession by remaining in
Father only left Paris after he had seen us what he calls comfortably
settled here, and had informed Madame de Maisonrouge
(the mistress of the establishment—the head of the “family”)
that he wished my French pronunciation especially attended to. The
pronunciation, as it happens, is just what I am most at home in; if he had said
my genders or my idioms there would have been some sense. But poor father
has no tact, and this defect is especially marked since he has been in
Our rooms are very prettily arranged, and the table is remarkably
good. Mamma thinks the whole thing—the place and the people, the
manners and customs—very amusing; but mamma is very easily amused.
As for me, you know, all that I ask is to be let alone, and not to have
people’s society forced upon me. I have never wanted for society of
my own choosing, and, so long as I retain possession of my faculties, I
don’t suppose I ever shall. As I said, however, the place is very
well managed, and I succeed in doing as I please, which, you know, is my most
cherished pursuit. Madame de Maisonrouge has a
great deal of tact—much more than poor father. She is what they
call here a belle femme, which means that she is a tall, ugly woman, with
style. She dresses very well, and has a great deal of talk; but, though
she is a very good imitation of a lady, I never see her behind the
dinner-table, in the evening, smiling and bowing, as the people come in, and
looking all the while at the dishes and the servants, without thinking of a dame
de comptoir blooming in a corner of a shop or a
restaurant. I am sure that, in spite of her fine name, she was once a dame
de comptoir. I am also sure that, in spite
of her smiles and the pretty things she says to every one, she hates us all,
and would like to murder us. She is a hard, clever Frenchwoman, who would
like to amuse herself and enjoy her
The “family,” for the rest, consists altogether of our beloved
compatriots, and of still more beloved Englanders. There is an Englishman
here, with his sister, and they seem to be rather nice people. He is
remarkably handsome, but excessively affected and patronising,
especially to us Americans; and I hope to have a chance of biting his head off
before long. The sister is very pretty, and, apparently, very nice; but,
in costume, she is Britannia incarnate. There is a very pleasant little
Frenchman—when they are nice they are charming—and a German doctor,
a big blonde man, who looks like a great white bull; and two Americans, besides
mother and me. One of them is a young man from
FROM LOUIS LEVERETT, IN
My dear Harvard—I have carried out my plan, of which I gave you a hint in my last, and I only regret that I should not have done it before. It is human nature, after all, that is the most interesting thing in the world, and it only reveals itself to the truly earnest seeker. There is a want of earnestness in that life of hotels and railroad trains, which so many of our countrymen are content to lead in this strange Old World, and I was distressed to find how far I, myself; had been led along the dusty, beaten track. I had, however, constantly wanted to turn aside into more unfrequented ways; to plunge beneath the surface and see what I should discover. But the opportunity had always been missing; somehow, I never meet those opportunities that we hear about and read about—the things that happen to people in novels and biographies. And yet I am always on the watch to take advantage of any opening that may present itself; I am always looking out for experiences, for sensations—I might almost say for adventures.
The great thing is to live, you know—to feel, to be conscious of one’s possibilities; not to pass through life mechanically and insensibly, like a letter through the post-office. There are times, my dear Harvard, when I feel as if I were really capable of everything—capable de tout, as they say here—of the greatest excesses as well as the greatest heroism. Oh, to be able to say that one has lived—qu’on a vécu, as they say here—that idea exercises an indefinable attraction for me. You will, perhaps, reply, it is easy to say it; but the thing is to make people believe you! And, then, I don’t want any second-hand, spurious sensations; I want the knowledge that leaves a trace—that leaves strange scars and stains and reveries behind it! But I am afraid I shock you, perhaps even frighten you.
If you repeat my remarks to any of the
When I was with the Johnsons everything was superficial; and, as regards life, everything was brought down to the question of right and wrong. They were too didactic; art should never be didactic; and what is life but an art? Pater has said that so well, somewhere. With the Johnsons I am afraid I lost many opportunities; the tone was gray and cottony, I might almost say woolly. But now, as I tell you, I have determined to take right hold for myself; to look right into European life, and judge it without Johnsonian prejudices. I have taken up my residence in a French family, in a real Parisian house. You see I have the courage of my opinions; I don’t shrink from carrying out my theory that the great thing is to live.
You know I have always been intensely interested in Balzac, who never shrank
from the reality, and whose almost lurid
pictures of Parisian life have often haunted me in my wanderings through the
old wicked-looking streets on the other side of the river. I am only
sorry that my new friends—my French family—do not live in the old
city—au coeur du vieux
I am rather disappointed, I confess, in the society I find here; it is not so local, so characteristic, as I could have desired. Indeed, to tell the truth, it is not local at all; but, on the other hand, it is cosmopolitan, and there is a great advantage in that. We are French, we are English, we are American, we are German; and, I believe, there are some Russians and Hungarians expected. I am much interested in the study of national types; in comparing, contrasting, seizing the strong points, the weak points, the point of view of each. It is interesting to shift one’s point of view—to enter into strange, exotic ways of looking at life.
The American types here are not, I am sorry to say, so
interesting as they might be, and, excepting myself; are exclusively
feminine. We are thin, my dear Harvard; we are pale, we are
sharp. There is something meagre about us; our
line is wanting in roundness, our composition in richness. We lack
temperament; we don’t know how to live; nous
ne savons pas vivre, as
they say here. The American temperament is represented (putting myself
aside, and I often think that my temperament is not at all American) by a young
girl and her mother, and another young girl without her mother—without
her mother or any attendant or appendage whatever. These young girls are
rather curious types; they have a certain interest, they have a certain grace,
but they are disappointing too; they don’t go far; they don’t keep
all they promise; they don’t satisfy the imagination. They are
cold, slim, sexless; the physique is not generous, not abundant; it is only the
drapery, the skirts and furbelows (that is, I mean in the young lady who has
her mother) that are abundant. They are very different: one of them all
elegance, all expensiveness, with an air of high fashion, from
The fair New Yorker is, sometimes, very amusing; she asks me if every one in
Boston talks like me—if every one is as “intellectual” as
your poor correspondent. She is for ever throwing
By way of contrast, there is a lovely English girl, with eyes as shy as
violets, and a voice as sweet! She has a sweet Gainsborough head, and a
great Gainsborough hat, with a mighty plume in front of it, which makes a
shadow over her quiet English eyes. Then she has a sage-green robe,
“mystic, wonderful,” all embroidered with subtle devices and
flowers, and birds of tender tint; very straight and tight in front, and
adorned behind, along the spine, with large, strange, iridescent buttons.
The revival of taste, of the sense of beauty, in
This gracious English maiden, with her clinging robes, her amulets and girdles, with something quaint and angular in her step, her carriage something mediæval and Gothic, in the details of her person and dress, this lovely Evelyn Vane (isn’t it a beautiful name?) is deeply, delightfully picturesque. She is much a woman—elle est bien femme, as they say here; simpler, softer, rounder, richer than the young girls I spoke of just now. Not much talk—a great, sweet silence. Then the violet eye—the very eye itself seems to blush; the great shadowy hat, making the brow so quiet; the strange, clinging, clutching, pictured raiment! As I say, it is a very gracious, tender type. She has her brother with her, who is a beautiful, fair-haired, gray-eyed young Englishman. He is purely objective; and he, too, is very plastic.
FROM MIRANDA HOPE TO HER MOTHER.
You must not be frightened at not hearing from me oftener; it is not because I am in any trouble, but because I am getting on so well. If I were in any trouble I don’t think I should write to you; I should just keep quiet and see it through myself. But that is not the case at present and, if I don’t write to you, it is because I am so deeply interested over here that I don’t seem to find time. It was a real providence that brought me to this house, where, in spite of all obstacles, I am able to do much good work. I wonder how I find the time for all I do; but when I think that I have only got a year in Europe, I feel as if I wouldn’t sacrifice a single hour.
The obstacles I refer to are the disadvantages I have in learning French,
there being so many persons around me speaking English, and that, as you may
say, in the very bosom of a French family. It seems as if you heard
English everywhere; but I certainly didn’t expect to find it in a place
like this. I am not discouraged, however, and I talk French all I can,
even with the other English boarders. Then I have a lesson every day from
Miss Maisonrouge (the elder daughter of the lady of
the house), and French conversation every evening in the salon, from eight to
eleven, with Madame herself, and some friends of hers that often come in.
Her cousin, Mr. Verdier, a young French gentleman, is
fortunately staying with her, and I make a point of talking with him as much as
possible. I have extra private lessons from him, and I often go
out to walk with him. Some night, soon, he is to accompany me to the
opera. We have also a most interesting plan of visiting all the galleries
The conversation in the parlour (from eight to
eleven) is often remarkably brilliant, and I often wish that you, or some of
I am sure I don’t know what they will think of me when I get
back. It seems as if; over here, I had learned to come out with
everything. I suppose they will think I am not sincere; but isn’t
it more sincere to come out with things than to conceal them? I have
become very good friends with every one in the house—that is (you see, I am
sincere), with almost every one. It is the most interesting circle
I ever was in. There’s a girl here, an American,
that I don’t like so much as the rest; but that is only because
she won’t let me. I should like to like her, ever so much, because
she is most lovely and most attractive; but she doesn’t seem to want to
know me or to like me. She comes from
I went up to her to ask her the day before yesterday; I thought that was the
best way. I told her I wanted to know her better, and would like to come
and see her in her room—they tell me she has got a lovely room—and
that if she had heard anything against me, perhaps she would tell me when I
came. But she was more distant than ever, and she just turned it off;
said that she had never heard me mentioned, and that her room was too small to
receive visitors. I suppose she spoke the truth, but I am sure she has
got some reason, all the same. She has got some idea, and I am bound to
find out before I go, if I have to ask everybody in the house. I am
right down curious. I wonder if she doesn’t think me
refined—or if she had ever heard anything against
Apropos, as they say here, of refinement, there is another American in the
house—a gentleman from
If I had any money to spend I would buy some and take them back, to hang
up. Mr. Leverett says it would do them good—not the pictures, but the
I can get all the
There are two of the English who I suppose are very cultivated too; but it doesn’t seem as if I could enter into theirs so easily, though I try all I can. I do love their way of speaking, and sometimes I feel almost as if it would be right to give up trying to learn French, and just try to learn to speak our own tongue as these English speak it. It isn’t the things they say so much, though these are often rather curious, but it is in the way they pronounce, and the sweetness of their voice. It seems as if they must try a good deal to talk like that; but these English that are here don’t seem to try at all, either to speak or do anything else. They are a young lady and her brother. I believe they belong to some noble family. I have had a good deal of intercourse with them, because I have felt more free to talk to them than to the Americans—on account of the language. It seems as if in talking with them I was almost learning a new one.
I never supposed, when I left
You know I told you, in writing some time ago, that I had tried to get some insight into the position of woman in England, and, being here with Miss Vane, it has seemed to me to be a good opportunity to get a little more. I have asked her a great deal about it; but she doesn’t seem able to give me much information. The first time I asked her she told me the position of a lady depended upon the rank of her father, her eldest brother, her husband, etc. She told me her own position was very good, because her father was some relation—I forget what—to a lord. She thinks everything of this; and that proves to me that the position of woman in her country cannot be satisfactory; because, if it were, it wouldn’t depend upon that of your relations, even your nearest. I don’t know much about lords, and it does try my patience (though she is just as sweet as she can live) to hear her talk as if it were a matter of course that I should.
I feel as if it were right to ask her as often as I can if she doesn’t
consider every one equal; but she always says she doesn’t, and she
confesses that she doesn’t think she is equal to “Lady
Something-or-other,” who is the wife of that relation of her
father. I try and persuade her all I can that she is; but it seems as if
she didn’t want to be persuaded; and when I ask her if Lady So-and-so is
of the same opinion (that Miss Vane isn’t her equal), she looks so soft
and pretty with her eyes, and says, “Of course she is!” When
I tell her that this is right down bad for Lady So-and-so, it seems as if she
wouldn’t believe me, and the only answer she will make is that Lady
So-and-so is “extremely nice.” I don’t believe she is
nice at all; if she were nice, she wouldn’t have such ideas as
that. I tell Miss Vane that at
Mr. Vane, also (the brother), seems to have the same prejudices, and when I tell him, as I often think it right to do, that his sister is not his subordinate, even if she does think so, but his equal, and, perhaps in some respects his superior, and that if my brother, in Bangor, were to treat me as he treates this poor young girl, who has not spirit enough to see the question in its true light, there would be an indignation, meeting of the citizens to protest against such an outrage to the sanctity of womanhood—when I tell him all this, at breakfast or dinner, he bursts out laughing so loud that all the plates clatter on the table.
But at such a time as this there is always one person who seems interested in what I say—a German gentleman, a professor, who sits next to me at dinner, and whom I must tell you more about another time. He is very learned, and has a great desire for information; he appreciates a great many of my remarks, and after dinner, in the salon, he often comes to me to ask me questions about them. I have to think a little, sometimes, to know what I did say, or what I do think. He takes you right up where you left off; and he is almost as fond of discussing things as William Platt is. He is splendidly educated, in the German style, and he told me the other day that he was an “intellectual broom.” Well, if he is, he sweeps clean; I told him that. After he has been talking to me I feel as if I hadn’t got a speck of dust left in my mind anywhere. It’s a most delightful feeling. He says he’s an observer; and I am sure there is plenty over here to observe. But I have told you enough for to-day. I don’t know how much longer I shall stay here; I am getting on so fast that it sometimes seems as if I shouldn’t need all the time I have laid out. I suppose your cold weather has promptly begun, as usual; it sometimes makes me envy you. The fall weather here is very dull and damp, and I feel very much as if I should like to be braced up.
FROM MISS EVELYN VANE, IN
Dear Lady Augusta—I am afraid I shall not be able to come to you on
January 7th, as you kindly proposed at Homburg. I am so very, very sorry;
it is a great disappointment to me. But I have just heard that it has
been settled that mamma and the children are coming abroad for a part of the
winter, and mamma wishes me to go with them to Hyères,
Mamma, however, is only going to bring Mary and Gus and Fred and Adelaide abroad with her; the others will remain at Kingscote until February (about the 3d), when they will go to Eastbourne for a month with Miss Turnover, the new governess, who has turned out such a very nice person. She is going to take Miss Travers, who has been with us so long, but who is only qualified for the younger children, to Hyères, and I believe some of the Kingscote servants. She has perfect confidence in Miss T.; it is only a pity she has such an odd name. Mamma thought of asking her if she would mind taking another when she came; but papa thought she might object. Lady Battledown makes all her governesses take the same name; she gives £5 more a year for the purpose. I forget what it is she calls them; I think it’s Johnson (which to me always suggests a lady’s maid). Governesses shouldn’t have too pretty a name; they shouldn’t have a nicer name than the family.
I suppose you heard from the Desmonds that I did
not go back to
You know Harold came here six weeks ago, to get up his French for those
dreadful examinations that he has to pass so soon. He came to live with
some French people that take in young men (and others) for this purpose;
it’s a kind of coaching place, only kept by women. Mamma had heard
it was very nice; so she wrote to me that I was to come and stop here with Harold.
The Desmonds brought me and made the arrangement, or
the bargain, or whatever you call it. Poor Harold was naturally not at
all pleased; but he has been very kind, and has treated me like an angel.
He is getting on beautifully with his French; for though I don’t think
the place is so good as papa supposed, yet Harold is
so immensely clever that he can scarcely help learning. I am afraid I
learn much less, but, fortunately, I have not to pass an
examination—except if mamma takes it into her head to examine me.
But she will have so much to think of with
This is not such a nice place for a girl as for a young man, and the Desmonds thought it exceedingly odd that mamma
should wish me to come here. As Mrs. Desmond said, it is because she is
so very unconventional. But you know
There are some very odd Americans here, who keep throwing Harold into fits
of laughter. One is a dreadful little man who is always sitting over the
fire, and talking about the colour of the sky. I don’t believe he
ever saw the sky except through the window—pane. The other day he
took hold of my frock (that green one you thought so nice at Homburg) and told
me that it reminded him of the texture of the
The other Americans (beside the madman) are two girls, about my own age, one of whom is rather nice. She has a mother; but the mother is always sitting in her bedroom, which seems so very odd. I should like mamma to ask them to Kingscote, but I am afraid mamma wouldn’t like the mother, who is rather vulgar. The other girl is rather vulgar too, and is travelling about quite alone. I think she is a kind of schoolmistress; but the other girl (I mean the nicer one, with the mother) tells me she is more respectable than she seems. She has, however, the most extraordinary opinions—wishes to do away with the aristocracy, thinks it wrong that Arthur should have Kingscote when papa dies, etc. I don’t see what it signifies to her that poor Arthur should come into the property, which will be so delightful—except for papa dying. But Harold says she is mad. He chaffs her tremendously about her radicalism, and he is so immensely clever that she can’t answer him, though she is rather clever too.
There is also a Frenchman, a nephew, or cousin, or something, of the person of the house, who is extremely nasty; and a German professor, or doctor, who eats with his knife and is a great bore. I am so very sorry about giving up my visit. I am afraid you will never ask me again.
FROM LÉON VERDIER, IN
My Dear Prosper—It is a long time since I have given you of my news, and I don’t know what puts it into my head to-night to recall myself to your affectionate memory. I suppose it is that when we are happy the mind reverts instinctively to those with whom formerly we shared our exaltations and depressions, and je t’eu ai trop dit, dans le bon temps, mon gros Prosper, and you always listened to me too imperturbably, with your pipe in your mouth, your waistcoat unbuttoned, for me not to feel that I can count upon your sympathy to-day. Nous en sommes nous flanquées des confidences—in those happy days when my first thought in seeing an adventure poindre à l’horizon was of the pleasure I should have in relating it to the great Prosper. As I tell thee, I am happy; decidedly, I am happy, and from this affirmation I fancy you can construct the rest. Shall I help thee a little? Take three adorable girls . . . three, my good Prosper—the mystic number—neither more nor less. Take them and place thy insatiable little Léon in the midst of them! Is the situation sufficiently indicated, and do you apprehend the motives of my felicity?
You expected, perhaps, I was going to tell you that I had made my fortune, or that the Uncle Blondeau had at last decided to return into the breast of nature, after having constituted me his universal legatee. But I needn’t remind you that women are always for something in the happiness of him who writes to thee—for something in his happiness, and for a good deal more in his misery. But don’t let me talk of misery now; time enough when it comes; ces demoiselles have gone to join the serried ranks of their amiable predecessors. Excuse me—I comprehend your impatience. I will tell you of whom ces demoiselles consist.
You have heard me speak of my cousine de Maisonrouge, that grande belle femme, who, after having married, en secondes noces—there had been, to tell the truth, some irregularity about her first union—a venerable relic of the old noblesse of Poitou, was left, by the death of her husband, complicated by the indulgence of expensive tastes on an income of 17,000 francs, on the pavement of Paris, with two little demons of daughters to bring up in the path of virtue. She managed to bring them up; my little cousins are rigidly virtuous. If you ask me how she managed it, I can’t tell you; it’s no business of mine, and, à fortiori none of yours. She is now fifty years old (she confesses to thirty-seven), and her daughters, whom she has never been able to marry, are respectively twenty-seven and twenty-three (they confess to twenty and to seventeen). Three years ago she had the thrice-blessed idea of opening a sort of pension for the entertainment and instruction of the blundering barbarians who come to Paris in the hope of picking up a few stray particles of the language of Voltaire—or of Zola. The idea lui a porté bonheur; the shop does a very good business. Until within a few months ago it was carried on by my cousins alone; but lately the need of a few extensions and embellishments has caused itself to be felt. My cousin has undertaken them, regardless of expense; she has asked me to come and stay with her—board and lodging gratis—and keep an eye on the grammatical eccentricities of her pensionnaires. I am the extension, my good Prosper; I am the embellishment! I live for nothing, and I straighten up the accent of the prettiest English lips. The English lips are not all pretty, heaven knows, but enough of them are so to make it a gaining bargain for me.
Just now, as I told you, I am in daily conversation with three separate pairs. The owner of one of them has private lessons; she pays extra. My cousin doesn’t give me a sou of the money; but I make bold, nevertheless, to say that my trouble is remunerated. But I am well, very well, with the proprietors of the two other pairs. One of them is a little Anglaise, of about twenty—a little figure de keepsake; the most adorable miss that you ever, or at least that I ever beheld. She is decorated all over with beads and bracelets and embroidered dandelions; but her principal decoration consists of the softest little gray eyes in the world, which rest upon you with a profundity of confidence—a confidence that I really feel some compunction in betraying. She has a tint as white as this sheet of paper, except just in the middle of each cheek, where it passes into the purest and most transparent, most liquid, carmine. Occasionally this rosy fluid overflows into the rest of her face—by which I mean that she blushes—as softly as the mark of your breath on the window-pane.
Like every Anglaise, she is rather pinched and prim in public; but it is very easy to see that when no one is looking elle ne demande qu’à se laisser aller! Whenever she wants it I am always there, and I have given her to understand that she can count upon me. I have reason to believe that she appreciates the assurance, though I am bound in honesty to confess that with her the situation is a little less advanced than with the others. Que voulez-vous? The English are heavy, and the Anglaises move slowly, that’s all. The movement, however, is perceptible, and once this fact is established I can let the pottage simmer. I can give her time to arrive, for I am over-well occupied with her concurrentes. Celles-ci don’t keep me waiting, par exemple!
These young ladies are Americans, and you know that it is the national character to move fast. “All right—go ahead!” (I am learning a great deal of English, or, rather, a great deal of American.) They go ahead at a rate that sometimes makes it difficult for me to keep up. One of them is prettier than the other; but this hatter (the one that takes the private lessons) is really une file prodigieuse. Ah, par exemple, elle brûle ses vais-seux cella-la! She threw herself into my arms the very first day, and I almost owed her a grudge for having deprived me of that pleasure of gradation, of carrying the defences, one by one, which is almost as great as that of entering the place.
Would you believe that at the end of exactly twelve minutes she gave me a rendezvous? It is true it was in the Galerie d’Apollon, at the Louvre; but that was respectable for a beginning, and since then we have had them by the dozen; I have ceased to keep the account. Non, c’est une file qui me dépasse.
The little one (she has a mother somewhere, out of sight, shut up in a
closet or a trunk) is a good deal prettier, and, perhaps, on that account elle y met plus de façons.
She doesn’t knock about
However, it is the tall one, the one of the private lessons, that is the most remarkable. These private lessons, my good Prosper, are the most brilliant invention of the age, and a real stroke of genius on the part of Miss Miranda! They also take place in the petit salon, but with the doors tightly closed, and with explicit directions to every one in the house that we are not to be disturbed. And we are not, my good Prosper; we are not! Not a sound, not a shadow, interrupts our felicity. My cousine is really admirable; the shop deserves to succeed. Miss Miranda is tall and rather flat; she is too pale; she hasn’t the adorable rougeurs of the little Anglaise. But she has bright, keen, inquisitive eyes, superb teeth, a nose modelled by a sculptor, and a way of holding up her head and looking every one in the face, which is the most finished piece of impertinence I ever beheld. She is making the tour du monde entirely alone, without even a soubrette to carry the ensign, for the purpose of seeing for herself à quoi s’en tenir sur les hommes et les choses—on les hommes particularly. Dis donc, Prosper, it must be a drôle de pays over there, where young persons animated by this ardent curiosity are manufactured! If we should turn the tables, some day, thou and I, and go over and see it for ourselves. It is as well that we should go and find them chez elles, as that they should come out here after us. Dis donc, mon gras Prosper . . .
FROM DR. RUDOLF STAUB, IN
My dear brother in Science—I resume my hasty notes, of which I sent you the first instalment some weeks ago. I mentioned then that I intended to leave my hotel, not finding it sufficiently local and national. It was kept by a Pomeranian, and the waiters, without exception, were from the Fatherland. I fancied myself at Berlin, Unter den Linden, and I reflected that, having taken the serious step of visiting the head-quarters of the Gallic genius, I should try and project myself; as much as possible, into the circumstances which are in part the consequence and in part the cause of its irrepressible activity. It seemed to me that there could be no well-grounded knowledge without this preliminary operation of placing myself in relations, as slightly as possible modified by elements proceeding from a different combination of causes, with the spontaneous home-life of the country.
I accordingly engaged a room in the house of a lady of pure French extraction and education, who supplements the shortcomings of an income insufficient to the ever-growing demands of the Parisian system of sense-gratification, by providing food and lodging for a limited number of distinguished strangers. I should have preferred to have my room alone in the house, and to take my meals in a brewery, of very good appearance, which I speedily discovered in the same street; but this arrangement, though very lucidly proposed by myself; was not acceptable to the mistress of the establishment (a woman with a mathematical head), and I have consoled myself for the extra expense by fixing my thoughts upon the opportunity that conformity to the customs of the house gives me of studying the table-manners of my companions, and of observing the French nature at a peculiarly physiological moment, the moment when the satisfaction of the taste, which is the governing quality in its composition, produces a kind of exhalation, an intellectual transpiration, which, though light and perhaps invisible to a superficial spectator, is nevertheless appreciable by a properly adjusted instrument.
I have adjusted my instrument very satisfactorily (I mean the one I carry in my good square German head), and I am not afraid of losing a single drop of this valuable fluid, as it condenses itself upon the plate of my observation. A prepared surface is what I need, and I have prepared my surface.
Unfortunately here, also, I find the individual native in the minority. There are only four French persons in the house—the individuals concerned in its management, three of whom are women, and one a man. This preponderance of the feminine element is, however, in itself characteristic, as I need not remind you what an abnormally—developed part this sex has played in French history. The remaining figure is apparently that of a man, but I hesitate to classify him so superficially. He appears to me less human than simian, and whenever I hear him talk I seem to myself to have paused in the street to listen to the shrill clatter of a hand-organ, to which the gambols of a hairy homunculus form an accompaniment.
I mentioned to you before that my expectation of rough usage, in consequence of my German nationality, had proved completely unfounded. No one seems to know or to care what my nationality is, and I am treated, on the contrary, with the civility which is the portion of every traveller who pays the bill without scanning the items too narrowly. This, I confess, has been something of a surprise to me, and I have not yet made up my mind as to the fundamental cause of the anomaly. My determination to take up my abode in a French interior was largely dictated by the supposition that I should be substantially disagreeable to its inmates. I wished to observe the different forms taken by the irritation that I should naturally produce; for it is under the influence of irritation that the French character most completely expresses itself. My presence, however, does not appear to operate as a stimulus, and in this respect I am materially disappointed. They treat me as they treat every one else; whereas, in order to be treated differently, I was resigned in advance to be treated worse. I have not, as I say, fully explained to myself this logical contradiction; but this is the explanation to which I tend. The French are so exclusively occupied with the idea of themselves, that in spite of the very definite image the German personality presented to them by the war of 1870, they have at present no distinct apprehension of its existence. They are not very sure that there are any Germans; they have already forgotten the convincing proofs of the fact that were presented to them nine years ago. A German was something disagreeable, which they determined to keep out of their conception of things. I therefore think that we are wrong to govern ourselves upon the hypothesis of the revanche; the French nature is too shallow for that large and powerful plant to bloom in it.
The English-speaking specimens, too, I have not been willing to neglect the
opportunity to examine; and among these I have paid special attention to the
American varieties, of which I find here several singular examples. The
two most remarkable are a young man who presents all the characteristics of a
period of national decadence; reminding me strongly of some diminutive Hellenised Roman of the third century. He is an
illustration of the period of culture in which the faculty of appreciation has
obtained such a preponderance over that of production
that the latter sinks into a kind of rank sterility, and the mental condition
becomes analogous to that of a malarious bog. I
learn from him that there is an immense number of Americans exactly resembling
him, and that the city of
What strikes one in it is that it is a phenomenon to the best of my knowledge—and you know what my knowledge is—unprecedented and unique in the history of mankind; the arrival of a nation at an ultimate stage of evolution without having passed through the mediate one; the passage of the fruit, in other words, from crudity to rottenness, without the interposition of a period of useful (and ornamental) ripeness. With the Americans, indeed, the crudity and the rottenness are identical and simultaneous; it is impossible to say, as in the conversation of this deplorable young man, which is one and which is the other; they are inextricably mingled. I prefer the talk of the French homunculus; it is at least more amusing.
It is interesting in this manner to perceive, so largely developed, the
germs of extinction in the so-called powerful Anglo-Saxon family. I find
them in almost as recognisable a form in a young
woman from the State of Maine, in the province of New England, with whom I have
had a good deal of conversation. She differs somewhat from the young man
I just mentioned, in that the faculty of production, of action, is, in her,
less inanimate; she has more of the freshness and vigour
that we suppose to belong to a young civilisation.
But unfortunately she produces nothing but evil, and her tastes and habits are
similarly those of a Roman lady of the lower Empire. She makes no secret
of them, and has, in fact, elaborated a complete system of licentious behaviour. As the opportunities she finds in her own
country do not satisfy her, she has come to
Another observation which pushes me to the same induction—that of the premature vitiation of the American population—is the attitude of the Americans whom I have before me with regard to each other. There is another young lady here, who is less abnormally developed than the one I have just described, but who yet bears the stamp of this peculiar combination of incompleteness and effeteness. These three persons look with the greatest mistrust and aversion upon each other; and each has repeatedly taken me apart and assured me, secretly, that he or she only is the real, the genuine, the typical American. A type that has lost itself before it has been fixed—what can you look for from this?
Add to this that there are two young Englanders in the house, who hate all the Americans in a lump, making between them none of the distinctions and favourable comparisons which they insist upon, and you will, I think, hold me warranted in believing that, between precipitate decay and internecine enmities, the English-speaking family is destined to consume itself; and that with its decline the prospect of general pervasiveness, to which I alluded above, will brighten for the deep-lunged children of the Fatherland!
MIRANDA HOPE TO HER MOTHER.
Dear Mother—I am off in a day or two to visit some new country; I
haven’t yet decided which. I have satisfied myself with regard to
The German gentleman is also more interesting, the more you know him; it
seems sometimes as if I could fairly drink in his ideas. I have found out
why the young lady from
Tell William Platt his letter has come. I knew he would have to write, and I was bound I would make him! I haven’t decided what country I will visit yet; it seems as if there were so many to choose from. But I shall take care to pick out a good one, and to meet plenty of fresh experiences.
Dearest mother, my money holds out, and it is most interesting!