Worldly Ways and Byways
Part 1 out of 4
Worldly Ways and Byways - Eliot Gregory. 1899 edition. Scanned and
proofed by David Price, email email@example.com
Worldly Ways and Byways
A Table of Contents
To the READER
2. The Moth and the Star
3. Contrasted Travelling
4. The Outer and the Inner Woman
5. On Some Gilded Misalliances
6. The Complacency of Mediocrity
7. The Discontent of Talent
9. Social Suggestion
11. Social Exiles
12. "Seven Ages" of Furniture
13. Our Elite and Public Life
14. The Small Summer Hotel
15. A False Start
16. A Holy Land
17. Royalty at Play
18. A Rock Ahead
19. The Grand Prix
20. "The Treadmill"
21. "Like Master Like Man"
22. An English Invasion of the Riviera
23. A Common Weakness
24. Changing Paris
26. The Climber
27. The Last of the Dandies
28. A Nation on the Wing
30. The Faubourg St. Germain
31. Men's Manners
32. An Ideal Hostess
33. The Introducer
34. A Question and an Answer
35. Living on Your Friends
36. American Society in Italy
37. The Newport of the Past
38. A Conquest of Europe
39. A Race of Slaves
To the Reader
THERE existed formerly, in diplomatic circles, a curious custom,
since fallen into disuse, entitled the Pele Mele, contrived
doubtless by some distracted Master of Ceremonies to quell the
endless jealousies and quarrels for precedence between courtiers
and diplomatists of contending pretensions. Under this rule no
rank was recognized, each person being allowed at banquet, fete, or
other public ceremony only such place as he had been ingenious or
fortunate enough to obtain.
Any one wishing to form an idea of the confusion that ensued, of
the intrigues and expedients resorted to, not only in procuring
prominent places, but also in ensuring the integrity of the Pele
Mele, should glance over the amusing memoirs of M. de Segur.
The aspiring nobles and ambassadors, harassed by this constant
preoccupation, had little time or inclination left for any serious
pursuit, since, to take a moment's repose or an hour's breathing
space was to risk falling behind in the endless and aimless race.
Strange as it may appear, the knowledge that they owed place and
preferment more to chance or intrigue than to any personal merit or
inherited right, instead of lessening the value of the prizes for
which all were striving, seemed only to enhance them in the eyes of
Success was the unique standard by which they gauged their fellows.
Those who succeeded revelled in the adulation of their friends, but
when any one failed, the fickle crowd passed him by to bow at more
No better picture could be found of the "world" of to-day, a
perpetual Pele Mele, where such advantages only are conceded as we
have been sufficiently enterprising to obtain, and are strong or
clever enough to keep - a constant competition, a daily
steeplechase, favorable to daring spirits and personal initiative
but with the defect of keeping frail humanity ever on the qui vive.
Philosophers tell us, that we should seek happiness only in the
calm of our own minds, not allowing external conditions or the
opinions of others to influence our ways. This lofty detachment
from environment is achieved by very few. Indeed, the philosophers
themselves (who may be said to have invented the art of "posing")
were generally as vain as peacocks, profoundly pre-occupied with
the verdict of their contemporaries and their position as regards
Man is born gregarious and remains all his life a herding animal.
As one keen observer has written, "So great is man's horror of
being alone that he will seek the society of those he neither likes
nor respects sooner than be left to his own." The laws and
conventions that govern men's intercourse have, therefore, formed a
tempting subject for the writers of all ages. Some have labored
hoping to reform their generation, others have written to offer
solutions for life's many problems.
Beaumarchais, whose penetrating wit left few subjects untouched,
makes his Figaro put the subject aside with "Je me presse de rire
de tout, de peur d'etre oblige d'en pleurer."
The author of this little volume pretends to settle no disputes,
aims at inaugurating no reforms. He has lightly touched on passing
topics and jotted down, "to point a moral or adorn a tale," some of
the more obvious foibles and inconsistencies of our American ways.
If a stray bit of philosophy has here and there slipped in between
the lines, it is mostly of the laughing "school," and used more in
banter than in blame.
This much abused "world" is a fairly agreeable place if you do not
take it seriously. Meet it with a friendly face and it will smile
gayly back at you, but do not ask of it what it cannot give, or
attribute to its verdicts more importance than they deserve.
Newport, November first, 1897
CHAPTER 1 - Charm
WOMEN endowed by nature with the indescribable quality we call
"charm" (for want of a better word), are the supreme development of
a perfected race, the last word, as it were, of civilization; the
flower of their kind, crowning centuries of growing refinement and
cultivation. Other women may unite a thousand brilliant qualities,
and attractive attributes, may be beautiful as Astarte or witty as
Madame de Montespan, those endowed with the power of charm, have in
all ages and under every sky, held undisputed rule over the hearts
of their generation.
When we look at the portraits of the enchantresses whom history
tells us have ruled the world by their charm, and swayed the
destinies of empires at their fancy, we are astonished to find that
they have rarely been beautiful. From Cleopatra or Mary of
Scotland down to Lola Montez, the tell-tale coin or canvas reveals
the same marvellous fact. We wonder how these women attained such
influence over the men of their day, their husbands or lovers. We
would do better to look around us, or inward, and observe what is
passing in our own hearts.
Pause, reader mine, a moment and reflect. Who has held the first
place in your thoughts, filled your soul, and influenced your life?
Was she the most beautiful of your acquaintances, the radiant
vision that dazzled your boyish eyes? Has she not rather been some
gentle, quiet woman whom you hardly noticed the first time your
paths crossed, but who gradually grew to be a part of your life -
to whom you instinctively turned for consolation in moments of
discouragement, for counsel in your difficulties, and whose welcome
was the bright moment in your day, looked forward to through long
hours of toil and worry?
In the hurly-burly of life we lose sight of so many things our
fathers and mothers clung to, and have drifted so far away from
their gentle customs and simple, home-loving habits, that one
wonders what impression our society would make on a woman of a
century ago, could she by some spell be dropped into the swing of
modern days. The good soul would be apt to find it rather a far
cry from the quiet pleasures of her youth, to "a ladies' amateur
bicycle race" that formed the attraction recently at a summer
That we should have come to think it natural and proper for a young
wife and mother to pass her mornings at golf, lunching at the club-
house to "save time," returning home only for a hurried change of
toilet to start again on a bicycle or for a round of calls, an
occupation that will leave her just the half-hour necessary to slip
into a dinner gown, and then for her to pass the evening in dancing
or at the card-table, shows, when one takes the time to think of
it, how unconsciously we have changed, and (with all apologies to
the gay hostesses and graceful athletes of to-day) not for the
It is just in the subtle quality of charm that the women of the
last ten years have fallen away from their elder sisters. They
have been carried along by a love of sport, and by the set of
fashion's tide, not stopping to ask themselves whither they are
floating. They do not realize all the importance of their acts nor
the true meaning of their metamorphosis.
The dear creatures should be content, for they have at last escaped
from the bondage of ages, have broken their chains, and vaulted
over their prison walls. "Lords and masters" have gradually become
very humble and obedient servants, and the "love, honour, and obey"
of the marriage service might now more logically be spoken by the
man; on the lips of the women of to-day it is but a graceful "FACON
DE PARLER," and holds only those who choose to be bound.
It is not my intention to rail against the short-comings of the
day. That ungrateful task I leave to sterner moralists, and
hopeful souls who naively imagine they can stem the current of an
epoch with the barrier of their eloquence, or sweep back an ocean
of innovations by their logic. I should like, however, to ask my
sisters one question: Are they quite sure that women gain by these
changes? Do they imagine, these "sporty" young females in short-
cut skirts and mannish shirts and ties, that it is seductive to a
lover, or a husband to see his idol in a violent perspiration, her
draggled hair blowing across a sunburned face, panting up a long
hill in front of him on a bicycle, frantic at having lost her race?
Shade of gentle William! who said
A woman moved, is like a fountain troubled, -
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty.
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Is the modern girl under the impression that men will be contented
with poor imitations of themselves, to share their homes and be the
mothers of their children? She is throwing away the substance for
The moment women step out from the sanctuary of their homes, the
glamour that girlhood or maternity has thrown around them cast
aside, that moment will they cease to rule mankind. Women may
agitate until they have obtained political recognition, but will
awake from their foolish dream of power, realizing too late what
they have sacrificed to obtain it, that the price has been very
heavy, and the fruit of their struggles bitter on their lips.
There are few men, I imagine, of my generation to whom the words
"home" and "mother" have not a penetrating charm, who do not look
back with softened heart and tender thoughts to fireside scenes of
evening readings and twilight talks at a mother's knee, realizing
that the best in their natures owes its growth to these influences.
I sometimes look about me and wonder what the word "mother" will
mean later, to modern little boys. It will evoke, I fear, a
confused remembrance of some centaur-like being, half woman, half
wheel, or as it did to neglected little Rawdon Crawley, the vision
of a radiant creature in gauze and jewels, driving away to endless
FETES - FETES followed by long mornings, when he was told not to
make any noise, or play too loudly, "as poor mamma is resting."
What other memories can the "successful" woman of to-day hope to
leave in the minds of her children? If the child remembers his
mother in this way, will not the man who has known and perhaps
loved her, feel the same sensation of empty futility when her name
The woman who proposes a game of cards to a youth who comes to pass
an hour in her society, can hardly expect him to carry away a
particularly tender memory of her as he leaves the house. The girl
who has rowed, ridden, or raced at a man's side for days, with the
object of getting the better of him at some sport or pastime,
cannot reasonably hope to be connected in his thoughts with ideas
more tender or more elevated than "odds" or "handicaps," with an
undercurrent of pique if his unsexed companion has "downed" him
What man, unless he be singularly dissolute or unfortunate, but
turns his steps, when he can, towards some dainty parlor where he
is sure of finding a smiling, soft-voiced woman, whose welcome he
knows will soothe his irritated nerves and restore the even balance
of his temper, whose charm will work its subtle way into his
troubled spirit? The wife he loves, or the friend he admires and
respects, will do more for him in one such quiet hour when two
minds commune, coming closer to the real man, and moving him to
braver efforts, and nobler aims, than all the beauties and "sporty"
acquaintances of a lifetime. No matter what a man's education or
taste is, none are insensible to such an atmosphere or to the grace
and witchery a woman can lend to the simplest surroundings. She
need not be beautiful or brilliant to hold him in lifelong
allegiance, if she but possess this magnetism.
Madame Recamier was a beautiful, but not a brilliant woman, yet she
held men her slaves for years. To know her was to fall under her
charm, and to feel it once was to remain her adorer for life. She
will go down to history as the type of a fascinating woman. Being
asked once by an acquaintance what spell she worked on mankind that
enabled her to hold them for ever at her feet, she laughingly
"I have always found two words sufficient. When a visitor comes
into my salon, I say, 'ENFIN!' and when he gets up to go away, I
say, 'DEJA!' "
"What is this wonderful 'charm' he is writing about?" I hear some
sprightly maiden inquire as she reads these lines. My dear young
lady, if you ask the question, you have judged yourself and been
found wanting. But to satisfy you as far as I can, I will try and
define it - not by telling you what it is; that is beyond my power
- but by negatives, the only way in which subtle subjects can be
A woman of charm is never flustered and never DISTRAITE. She talks
little, and rarely of herself, remembering that bores are persons
who insist on talking about themselves. She does not break the
thread of a conversation by irrelevant questions or confabulate in
an undertone with the servants. No one of her guests receives more
of her attention than another and none are neglected. She offers
to each one who speaks the homage of her entire attention. She
never makes an effort to be brilliant or entertain with her wit.
She is far too clever for that. Neither does she volunteer
information nor converse about her troubles or her ailments, nor
wander off into details about people you do not know.
She is all things - to each man she likes, in the best sense of
that phrase, appreciating his qualities, stimulating him to better
- for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness and a smile and eloquence of beauty;
and she glides
Into his darker musings with a mild and healing sympathy that
Their sharpness ere he is aware.
CHAPTER 2 - The Moth and the Star
THE truth of the saying that "it is always the unexpected that
happens," receives in this country a confirmation from an unlooked-
for quarter, as does the fact of human nature being always,
discouragingly, the same in spite of varied surroundings. This
sounds like a paradox, but is an exceedingly simple statement
That the great mass of Americans, drawn as they are from such
varied sources, should take any interest in the comings and goings
or social doings of a small set of wealthy and fashionable people,
is certainly an unexpected development. That to read of the
amusements and home life of a clique of people with whom they have
little in common, whose whole education and point of view are
different from their own, and whom they have rarely seen and never
expect to meet, should afford the average citizen any amusement
seems little short of impossible.
One accepts as a natural sequence that abroad (where an hereditary
nobility have ruled for centuries, and accustomed the people to
look up to them as the visible embodiment of all that is splendid
and unattainable in life) such interest should exist. That the
home-coming of an English or French nobleman to his estates should
excite the enthusiasm of hundreds more or less dependent upon him
for their amusement or more material advantages; that his marriage
to an heiress - meaning to them the re-opening of a long-closed
CHATEAU and the beginning of a period of prosperity for the
district - should excite his neighbors is not to be wondered at.
It is well known that whole regions have been made prosperous by
the residence of a court, witness the wealth and trade brought into
Scotland by the Queen's preference for "the Land of Cakes," and the
discontent and poverty in Ireland from absenteeism and persistent
avoidance of that country by the court. But in this land, where
every reason for interesting one class in another seems lacking,
that thousands of well-to-do people (half the time not born in this
hemisphere), should delightedly devour columns of incorrect
information about New York dances and Lenox house-parties, winter
cruises, or Newport coaching parades, strikes the observer as the
"unexpected" in its purest form.
That this interest exists is absolutely certain. During a trip in
the West, some seasons ago, I was dumbfounded to find that the
members of a certain New York set were familiarly spoken of by
their first names, and was assailed with all sorts of eager
questions when it was discovered that I knew them. A certain young
lady, at that time a belle in New York, was currently called SALLY,
and a well-known sportsman FRED, by thousands of people who had
never seen either of them. It seems impossible, does it not? Let
us look a little closer into the reason of this interest, and we
shall find how simple is the apparent paradox.
Perhaps in no country, in all the world, do the immense middle
classes lead such uninteresting lives, and have such limited
resources at their disposal for amusement or the passing of leisure
Abroad the military bands play constantly in the public parks; the
museums and palaces are always open wherein to pass rainy Sunday
afternoons; every village has its religious FETES and local fair,
attended with dancing and games. All these mental relaxations are
lacking in our newer civilization; life is stripped of everything
that is not distinctly practical; the dull round of weekly toil is
only broken by the duller idleness of an American Sunday.
Naturally, these people long for something outside of themselves
and their narrow sphere.
Suddenly there arises a class whose wealth permits them to break
through the iron circle of work and boredom, who do picturesque and
delightful things, which appeal directly to the imagination; they
build a summer residence complete, in six weeks, with furniture and
bric-a-brac, on the top of a roadless mountain; they sail in
fairylike yachts to summer seas, and marry their daughters to the
heirs of ducal houses; they float up the Nile in dahabeeyah, or
pass the "month of flowers" in far Japan.
It is but human nature to delight in reading of these things. Here
the great mass of the people find (and eagerly seize on), the
element of romance lacking in their lives, infinitely more
enthralling than the doings of any novel's heroine. It is real!
It is taking place! and - still deeper reason - in every ambitious
American heart lingers the secret hope that with luck and good
management they too may do those very things, or at least that
their children will enjoy the fortunes they have gained, in just
those ways. The gloom of the monotonous present is brightened, the
patient toiler returns to his desk with something definite before
him - an objective point - towards which he can struggle; he knows
that this is no impossible dream. Dozens have succeeded and prove
to him what energy and enterprise can accomplish.
Do not laugh at this suggestion; it is far truer than you imagine.
Many a weary woman has turned from such reading to her narrow
duties, feeling that life is not all work, and with renewed hope in
the possibilities of the future.
Doubtless a certain amount of purely idle curiosity is mingled with
the other feelings. I remember quite well showing our city sights
to a bored party of Western friends, and failing entirely to amuse
them, when, happening to mention as we drove up town, "there goes
Mr. Blank," (naming a prominent leader of cotillions), my guests
nearly fell over each other and out of the carriage in their
eagerness to see the gentleman of whom they had read so much, and
who was, in those days, a power in his way, and several times after
they expressed the greatest satisfaction at having seen him.
I have found, with rare exceptions, and the experience has been
rather widely gathered all over the country, that this interest -
or call it what you will - has been entirely without spite or
bitterness, rather the delight of a child in a fairy story. For
people are rarely envious of things far removed from their grasp.
You will find that a woman who is bitter because her neighbor has a
girl "help" or a more comfortable cottage, rarely feels envy
towards the owners of opera-boxes or yachts. Such heart-burnings
(let us hope they are few) are among a class born in the shadow of
great wealth, and bred up with tastes that they can neither
relinquish nor satisfy. The large majority of people show only a
good-natured inclination to chaff, none of the "class feeling"
which certain papers and certain politicians try to excite.
Outside of the large cities with their foreign-bred, semi-
anarchistic populations, the tone is perfectly friendly; for the
simple reason that it never entered into the head of any American
to imagine that there WAS any class difference. To him his rich
neighbors are simply his lucky neighbors, almost his relations,
who, starting from a common stock, have been able to "get there"
sooner than he has done. So he wishes them luck on the voyage in
which he expects to join them as soon as he has had time to make a
So long as the world exists, or at least until we have reformed it
and adopted Mr. Bellamy's delightful scheme of existence as
described in "Looking Backward," great fortunes will be made, and
painful contrasts be seen, especially in cities, and it would seem
to be the duty of the press to soften - certainly not to sharpen -
the edge of discontent. As long as human nature is human nature,
and the poor care to read of the doings of the more fortunate, by
all means give them the reading they enjoy and demand, but let it
be written in a kindly spirit so that it may be a cultivation as
well as a recreation. Treat this perfectly natural and honest
taste honestly and naturally, for, after all, it is
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow.
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.
CHAPTER 3 - Contrasted Travelling
WHEN our parents went to Europe fifty years ago, it was the event
of a lifetime - a tour lovingly mapped out in advance with advice
from travelled friends. Passports were procured, books read, wills
made, and finally, prayers were offered up in church and solemn
leave-taking performed. Once on the other side, descriptive
letters were conscientiously written, and eagerly read by friends
at home, - in spite of these epistles being on the thinnest of
paper and with crossing carried to a fine art, for postage was high
in the forties. Above all, a journal was kept.
Such a journal lies before me as I write. Four little volumes in
worn morocco covers and faded "Italian" writing, more precious than
all my other books combined, their sight recalls that lost time -
my youth - when, as a reward, they were unlocked that I might look
at the drawings, and the sweetest voice in the world would read to
me from them! Happy, vanished days, that are so far away they seem
to have been in another existence!
The first volume opens with the voyage across the Atlantic, made in
an American clipper (a model unsurpassed the world over), which was
accomplished in thirteen days, a feat rarely equalled now, by sail.
Genial Captain Nye was in command. The same who later, when a
steam propelled vessel was offered him, refused, as unworthy of a
seaman, "to boil a kettle across the ocean."
Life friendships were made in those little cabins, under the
swinging lamp the travellers re-read last volumes so as to be
prepared to appreciate everything on landing. Ireland, England and
Scotland were visited with an enthusiasm born of Scott, the tedium
of long coaching journeys being beguiled by the first "numbers" of
"Pickwick," over which the men of the party roared, but which the
ladies did not care for, thinking it vulgar, and not to be compared
to "Waverley," "Thaddeus of Warsaw," or "The Mysteries of Udolpho."
A circular letter to our diplomatic agents abroad was presented in
each city, a rite invariably followed by an invitation to dine, for
which occasions a black satin frock with a low body and a few
simple ornaments, including (supreme elegance) a diamond cross,
were carried in the trunks. In London a travelling carriage was
bought and stocked, the indispensable courier engaged, half guide,
half servant, who was expected to explore a city, or wait at table,
as occasion required. Four days were passed between Havre and
Paris, and the slow progress across Europe was accomplished, Murray
in one hand and Byron in the other.
One page used particularly to attract my boyish attention. It was
headed by a naive little drawing of the carriage at an Italian inn
door, and described how, after the dangers and discomforts of an
Alpine pass, they descended by sunny slopes into Lombardy. Oh! the
rapture that breathes from those simple pages! The vintage scenes,
the mid-day halt for luncheon eaten in the open air, the afternoon
start, the front seat of the carriage heaped with purple grapes,
used to fire my youthful imagination and now recalls Madame de
Stael's line on perfect happiness: "To be young! to be in love! to
be in Italy!"
Do people enjoy Europe as much now? I doubt it! It has become too
much a matter of course, a necessary part of the routine of life.
Much of the bloom is brushed from foreign scenes by descriptive
books and photographs, that St. Mark's or Mt. Blanc has become as
familiar to a child's eye as the house he lives in, and in
consequence the reality now instead of being a revelation is often
In my youth, it was still an event to cross. I remember my first
voyage on the old side-wheeled SCOTIA, and Captain Judkins in a
wheeled chair, and a perpetual bad temper, being pushed about the
deck; and our delight, when the inevitable female asking him (three
days out) how far we were from land, got the answer "about a mile!"
"Indeed! How interesting! In which direction?"
"In that direction, madam," shouted the captain, pointing downward
as he turned his back to her.
If I remember, we were then thirteen days getting to Liverpool, and
made the acquaintance on board of the people with whom we travelled
during most of that winter. Imagine anyone now making an
acquaintance on board a steamer! In those simple days people
depended on the friendships made at summer hotels or boarding-
houses for their visiting list. At present, when a girl comes out,
her mother presents her to everybody she will be likely to know if
she were to live a century. In the seventies, ladies cheerfully
shared their state-rooms with women they did not know, and often
became friends in consequence; but now, unless a certain deck-suite
can be secured, with bath and sitting-room, on one or two
particular "steamers," the great lady is in despair. Yet our
mothers were quite as refined as the present generation, only they
took life simply, as they found it.
Children are now taken abroad so young, that before they have
reached an age to appreciate what they see, Europe has become to
them a twice-told tale. So true is this, that a receipt for making
children good Americans is to bring them up abroad. Once they get
back here it is hard to entice them away again.
With each improvement in the speed of our steamers, something of
the glamour of Europe vanishes. The crowds that yearly rush across
see and appreciate less in a lifetime than our parents did in their
one tour abroad. A good lady of my acquaintance was complaining
recently how much Paris bored her.
"What can you do to pass the time?" she asked. I innocently
answered that I knew nothing so entrancing as long mornings passed
at the Louvre.
"Oh, yes, I do that too," she replied, "but I like the 'Bon Marche'
A trip abroad has become a purely social function to a large number
of wealthy Americans, including "presentation" in London and a
winter in Rome or Cairo. And just as a "smart" Englishman is sure
to tell you that he has never visited the "Tower," it has become
good form to ignore the sight-seeing side of Europe; hundreds of
New Yorkers never seeing anything of Paris beyond the Rue de la
Paix and the Bois. They would as soon think of going to Cluny or
St. Denis as of visiting the museum in our park!
Such people go to Fontainebleau because they are buying furniture,
and they wish to see the best models. They go to Versailles on the
coach and "do" the Palace during the half-hour before luncheon.
Beyond that, enthusiasm rarely carries them. As soon as they have
settled themselves at the Bristol or the Rhin begins the endless
treadmill of leaving cards on all the people just seen at home, and
whom they will meet again in a couple of months at Newport or Bar
Harbor. This duty and the all-entrancing occupation of getting
clothes fills up every spare hour. Indeed, clothes seem to pervade
the air of Paris in May, the conversation rarely deviating from
them. If you meet a lady you know looking ill, and ask the cause,
it generally turns out to be "four hours a day standing to be
fitted." Incredible as it may seem, I have been told of one plain
maiden lady, who makes a trip across, spring and autumn, with the
sole object of getting her two yearly outfits.
Remembering the hundreds of cultivated people whose dream in life
(often unrealized from lack of means) has been to go abroad and
visit the scenes their reading has made familiar, and knowing what
such a trip would mean to them, and how it would be looked back
upon during the rest of an obscure life, I felt it almost a duty to
"suppress" a wealthy female (doubtless an American cousin of Lady
Midas) when she informed me, the other day, that decidedly she
would not go abroad this spring.
"It is not necessary. Worth has my measures!"
CHAPTER 4 - The Outer and the Inner Woman
IT is a sad commentary on our boasted civilization that cases of
shoplifting occur more and more frequently each year, in which the
delinquents are women of education and refinement, or at least
belong to families and occupy positions in which one would expect
to find those qualities! The reason, however, is not difficult to
In the wake of our hasty and immature prosperity has come (as it
does to all suddenly enriched societies) a love of ostentation, a
desire to dazzle the crowd by displays of luxury and rich trappings
indicative of crude and vulgar standards. The newly acquired
money, instead of being expended for solid comforts or articles
which would afford lasting satisfaction, is lavished on what can be
worn in public, or the outer shell of display, while the home table
and fireside belongings are neglected. A glance around our
theatres, or at the men and women in our crowded thoroughfares, is
sufficient to reveal to even a casual observer that the mania for
fine clothes and what is costly, PER SE, has become the besetting
sin of our day and our land.
The tone of most of the papers and of our theatrical advertisements
reflects this feeling. The amount of money expended for a work of
art or a new building is mentioned before any comment as to its
beauty or fitness. A play is spoken of as "Manager So and So's
thirty-thousand-dollar production!" The fact that a favorite
actress will appear in four different dresses during the three acts
of a comedy, each toilet being a special creation designed for her
by a leading Parisian house, is considered of supreme importance
and is dwelt upon in the programme as a special attraction.
It would be astonishing if the taste of our women were different,
considering the way clothes are eternally being dangled before
their eyes. Leading papers publish illustrated supplements devoted
exclusively to the subject of attire, thus carrying temptation into
every humble home, and suggesting unattainable luxuries. Windows
in many of the larger shops contain life-sized manikins loaded with
the latest costly and ephemeral caprices of fashion arranged to
catch the eye of the poorer class of women, who stand in hundreds
gazing at the display like larks attracted by a mirror! Watch
those women as they turn away, and listen to their sighs of
discontent and envy. Do they not tell volumes about petty hopes
I do not refer to the wealthy women whose toilets are in keeping
with their incomes and the general footing of their households;
that they should spend more or less in fitting themselves out
daintily is of little importance. The point where this subject
becomes painful is in families of small means where young girls
imagine that to be elaborately dressed is the first essential of
existence, and, in consequence, bend their labors and their
intelligence towards this end. Last spring I asked an old friend
where she and her daughters intended passing their summer. Her
answer struck me as being characteristic enough to quote: "We
should much prefer," she said, "returning to Bar Harbor, for we all
enjoy that place and have many friends there. But the truth is, my
daughters have bought themselves very little in the way of toilet
this year, as our finances are not in a flourishing condition. So
my poor girls will be obliged to make their last year's dresses do
for another season. Under these circumstances, it is out of the
question for us to return a second summer to the same place."
I do not know how this anecdote strikes my readers. It made me
thoughtful and sad to think that, in a family of intelligent and
practical women, such a reason should be considered sufficient to
outweigh enjoyment, social relations, even health, and allowed to
change the plans of an entire family.
As American women are so fond of copying English ways they should
be willing to take a few lessons on the subject of raiment from
across the water. As this is not intended to be a dissertation on
"How to Dress Well on Nothing a Year," and as I feel the greatest
diffidence in approaching a subject of which I know absolutely
nothing, it will be better to sheer off from these reefs and
quicksands. Every one who reads these lines will know perfectly
well what is meant, when reference is made to the good sense and
practical utility of English women's dress.
What disgusts and angers me (when my way takes me into our surface
or elevated cars or into ferry boats and local trains) is the utter
dissonance between the outfit of most of the women I meet and their
position and occupation. So universal is this, that it might
almost be laid down as an axiom, that the American woman, no matter
in what walk of life you observe her, or what the time or the
place, is always persistently and grotesquely overdressed. From
the women who frequent the hotels of our summer or winter resorts,
down all the steps of the social staircase to the char-woman, who
consents (spasmodically) to remove the dust and waste-papers from
my office, there seems to be the same complete disregard of
fitness. The other evening, in leaving my rooms, I brushed against
a portly person in the half-light of the corridor. There was a
shimmer of (what appeared to my inexperienced eyes as) costly
stuffs, a huge hat crowned the shadow itself, "topped by nodding
plumes," which seemed to account for the depleted condition of my
I found on inquiring of the janitor, that the dressy person I had
met, was the char-woman in street attire, and that a closet was set
aside in the building, for the special purpose of her morning and
evening transformations, which she underwent in the belief that her
social position in Avenue A would suffer, should she appear in the
streets wearing anything less costly than seal-skin and velvet or
such imitations of those expensive materials as her stipend would
I have as tenants of a small wooden house in Jersey City, a bank
clerk, his wife and their three daughters. He earns in the
neighborhood of fifteen hundred dollars a year. Their rent (with
which, by the way, they are always in arrears) is three hundred
dollars. I am favored spring and autumn by a visit from the ladies
of that family, in the hope (generally futile) of inducing me to do
some ornamental papering or painting in their residence, subjects
on which they have by experience found my agent to be
unapproachable. When those four women descend upon me, I am fairly
dazzled by the splendor of their attire, and lost in wonder as to
how the price of all that finery can have been squeezed out of the
twelve remaining hundreds of their income. When I meet the father
he is shabby to the outer limits of the genteel. His hat has, I am
sure, supported the suns and snowstorms of a dozen seasons. There
is a threadbare shine on his apparel that suggests a heartache in
each whitened seam, but the ladies are mirrors of fashion, as well
as moulds of form. What can remain for any creature comforts after
all those fine clothes have been paid for? And how much is put
away for the years when the long-suffering money maker will be past
work, or saved towards the time when sickness or accident shall
appear on the horizon? How those ladies had the "nerve" to enter a
ferry boat or crowd into a cable car, dressed as they were, has
always been a marvel to me. A landau and two liveried servants
would barely have been in keeping with their appearance.
Not long ago, a great English nobleman, who is also famous in the
yachting world, visited this country accompanied by his two
daughters, high-bred and genial ladies. No self-respecting
American shop girl or fashionable typewriter would have
condescended to appear in the inexpensive attire which those
English women wore. Wherever one met them, at dinner, FETE, or
ball, they were always the most simply dressed women in the room.
I wonder if it ever occurred to any of their gorgeously attired
hostesses, that it was because their transatlantic guests were so
sure of their position, that they contented themselves with such
simple toilets knowing that nothing they might wear could either
improve or alter their standing
In former ages, sumptuary laws were enacted by parental
governments, in the hope of suppressing extravagance in dress, the
state of affairs we deplore now, not being a new development of
human weakness, but as old as wealth.
The desire to shine by the splendor of one's trappings is the first
idea of the parvenu, especially here in this country, where the
ambitious are denied the pleasure of acquiring a title, and where
official rank carries with it so little social weight. Few more
striking ways present themselves to the crude and half-educated for
the expenditure of a new fortune than the purchase of sumptuous
apparel, the satisfaction being immediate and material. The wearer
of a complete and perfect toilet must experience a delight of which
the uninitiated know nothing, for such cruel sacrifices are made
and so many privations endured to procure this satisfaction. When
I see groups of women, clad in the latest designs of purple and
fine linen, stand shivering on street corners of a winter night,
until they can crowd into a car, I doubt if the joy they get from
their clothes, compensates them for the creature comforts they are
forced to forego, and I wonder if it never occurs to them to spend
less on their wardrobes and so feel they can afford to return from
a theatre or concert comfortably, in a cab, as a foreign woman,
with their income would do.
There is a stoical determination about the American point of view
that compels a certain amount of respect. Our countrywomen will
deny themselves pleasures, will economize on their food and will
remain in town during the summer, but when walking abroad they must
be clad in the best, so that no one may know by their appearance if
the income be counted by hundreds or thousands.
While these standards prevail and the female mind is fixed on this
subject with such dire intent, it is not astonishing that a weaker
sister is occasionally tempted beyond her powers of resistance.
Nor that each day a new case of a well-dressed woman thieving in a
shop reaches our ears. The poor feeble-minded creature is not to
blame. She is but the reflexion of the minds around her and is
probably like the lady Emerson tells of, who confessed to him "that
the sense of being perfectly well-dressed had given her a feeling
of inward tranquillity which religion was powerless to bestow."
CHAPTER 5 - On Some Gilded Misalliances
A DEAR old American lady, who lived the greater part of her life in
Rome, and received every body worth knowing in her spacious
drawing-rooms, far up in the dim vastnesses of a Roman palace, used
to say that she had only known one really happy marriage made by an
American girl abroad.
In those days, being young and innocent, I considered that remark
cynical, and in my heart thought nothing could be more romantic and
charming than for a fair compatriot to assume an historic title and
retire to her husband's estates, and rule smilingly over him and a
devoted tenantry, as in the last act of a comic opera, when a rose-
colored light is burning and the orchestra plays the last brilliant
chords of a wedding march.
There seemed to my perverted sense a certain poetic justice about
the fact that money, gained honestly but prosaically, in groceries
or gas, should go to regild an ancient blazon or prop up the
crumbling walls of some stately palace abroad.
Many thoughtful years and many cruel realities have taught me that
my gracious hostess of the "seventies" was right, and that marriage
under these conditions is apt to be much more like the comic opera
after the curtain has been rung down, when the lights are out, the
applauding public gone home, and the weary actors brought slowly
back to the present and the positive, are wondering how they are to
pay their rent or dodge the warrant in ambush around the corner.
International marriages usually come about from a deficient
knowledge of the world. The father becomes rich, the family travel
abroad, some mutual friend (often from purely interested motives)
produces a suitor for the hand of the daughter, in the shape of a
"prince" with a title that makes the whole simple American family
quiver with delight.
After a few visits the suitor declares himself; the girl is
flattered, the father loses his head, seeing visions of his loved
daughter hob-nobbing with royalty, and (intoxicating thought!)
snubbing the "swells" at home who had shown reluctance to recognize
him and his family.
It is next to impossible for him to get any reliable information
about his future son-in-law in a country where, as an American, he
has few social relations, belongs to no club, and whose idiom is a
sealed book to him. Every circumstance conspires to keep the flaws
on the article for sale out of sight and place the suitor in an
advantageous light. Several weeks' "courting" follows,
paterfamilias agrees to part with a handsome share of his earnings,
and a marriage is "arranged."
In the case where the girl has retained some of her self-respect
the suitor is made to come to her country for the ceremony. And,
that the contrast between European ways and our simple habits may
not be too striking, an establishment is hastily got together, with
hired liveries and new-bought carriages, as in a recent case in
this state. The sensational papers write up this "international
union," and publish "faked" portraits of the bride and her noble
spouse. The sovereign of the groom's country (enchanted that some
more American money is to be imported into his land) sends an
economical present and an autograph letter. The act ends.
Limelight and slow music!
In a few years rumors of dissent and trouble float vaguely back to
the girl's family. Finally, either a great scandal occurs, and
there is one dishonored home the more in the world, or an
expatriated woman, thousands of miles from the friends and
relatives who might be of some comfort to her, makes up her mind to
accept "anything" for the sake of her children, and attempts to
build up some sort of an existence out of the remains of her lost
illusions, and the father wakes up from his dream to realize that
his wealth has only served to ruin what he loved best in all the
Sometimes the conditions are delightfully comic, as in a well-known
case, where the daughter, who married into an indolent, happy-go-
lucky Italian family, had inherited her father's business push and
energy along with his fortune, and immediately set about "running"
her husband's estate as she had seen her father do his bank. She
tried to revive a half-forgotten industry in the district, scraped
and whitewashed their picturesque old villa, proposed her husband's
entering business, and in short dashed head down against all his
inherited traditions and national prejudices, until her new family
loathed the sight of the brisk American face, and the poor she had
tried to help, sulked in their newly drained houses and refused to
be comforted. Her ways were not Italian ways, and she seemed to
the nun-like Italian ladies, almost unsexed, as she tramped about
the fields, talking artificial manure and subsoil drainage with the
men. Yet neither she nor her husband was to blame. The young
Italian had but followed the teachings of his family, which decreed
that the only honorable way for an aristocrat to acquire wealth was
to marry it. The American wife honestly tried to do her duty in
this new position, naively thinking she could engraft transatlantic
"go" upon the indolent Italian character. Her work was in vain;
she made herself and her husband so unpopular that they are now
living in this country, regretting too late the error of their
Another case but little less laughable, is that of a Boston girl
with a neat little fortune of her own, who, when married to the
young Viennese of her choice, found that he expected her to live
with his family on the third floor of their "palace" (the two lower
floors being rented to foreigners), and as there was hardly enough
money for a box at the opera, she was not expected to go, whereas
his position made it necessary for him to have a stall and appear
there nightly among the men of his rank, the astonished and
disillusioned Bostonian remaining at home EN TETE-A-TETE with the
women of his family, who seemed to think this the most natural
arrangement in the world.
It certainly is astonishing that we, the most patriotic of nations,
with such high opinion of ourselves and our institutions, should be
so ready to hand over our daughters and our ducats to the first
foreigner who asks for them, often requiring less information about
him than we should consider necessary before buying a horse or a
Women of no other nation have this mania for espousing aliens.
Nowhere else would a girl with a large fortune dream of marrying
out of her country. Her highest ideal of a husband would be a man
of her own kin. It is the rarest thing in the world to find a
well-born French, Spanish, or Italian woman married to a foreigner
and living away from her country. How can a woman expect to be
happy separated from all the ties and traditions of her youth? If
she is taken abroad young, she may still hope to replace her
friends as is often done. But the real reason of unhappiness
(greater and deeper than this) lies in the fundamental difference
of the whole social structure between our country and that of her
adoption, and the radically different way of looking at every side
Surely a girl must feel that a man who allows a marriage to be
arranged for him (and only signs the contact because its pecuniary
clauses are to his satisfaction, and who would withdraw in a moment
if these were suppressed), must have an entirely different point of
view from her own on all the vital issues of life.
Foreigners undoubtedly make excellent husbands for their own women.
But they are, except in rare cases, unsatisfactory helpmeets for
American girls. It is impossible to touch on more than a side or
two of this subject. But as an illustration the following
contrasted stories may be cited:
Two sisters of an aristocratic American family, each with an income
of over forty thousand dollars a year, recently married French
noblemen. They naturally expected to continue abroad the life they
had led at home, in which opera boxes, saddle horses, and constant
entertaining were matters of course. In both cases, our
compatriots discovered that their husbands (neither of them
penniless) had entirely different views. In the first place, they
were told that it was considered "bad form" in France for young
married women to entertain; besides, the money was needed for
improvements, and in many other ways, and as every well-to-do
French family puts aside at least a third of its income as DOTS for
the children (boys as well as girls), these brides found themselves
cramped for money for the first time in their lives, and obliged,
during their one month a year in Paris, to put up with hired traps,
and depend on their friends for evenings at the opera.
This story is a telling set-off to the case of an American wife,
who one day received a windfall in the form of a check for a tidy
amount. She immediately proposed a trip abroad to her husband, but
found that he preferred to remain at home in the society of his
horses and dogs. So our fair compatriot starts off (with his full
consent), has her outing, spends her little "pile," and returns
after three or four months to the home of her delighted spouse.
Do these two stories need any comment? Let our sisters and their
friends think twice before they make themselves irrevocably wheels
in a machine whose working is unknown to them, lest they be torn to
pieces as it moves. Having the good luck to be born in the
"paradise of women," let them beware how they leave it, charm the
serpent never so wisely, for they may find themselves, like the
Peri, outside the gate.
CHAPTER 6 - The Complacency of Mediocrity
FULL as small intellects are of queer kinks, unexplained turnings
and groundless likes and dislikes, the bland contentment that buoys
up the incompetent is the most difficult of all vagaries to account
for. Rarely do twenty-four hours pass without examples of this
exasperating weakness appearing on the surface of those shallows
that commonplace people so naively call "their minds."
What one would expect is extreme modesty, in the half-educated or
the ignorant, and self-approbation higher up in the scale, where it
might more reasonably dwell. Experience, however, teaches that
exactly the opposite is the case among those who have achieved
The accidents of a life turned by chance out of the beaten tracks,
have thrown me at times into acquaintanceship with some of the
greater lights of the last thirty years. And not only have they
been, as a rule, most unassuming men and women; but in the majority
of cases positively self-depreciatory; doubting of themselves and
their talents, constantly aiming at greater perfection in their art
or a higher development of their powers, never contented with what
they have achieved, beyond the idea that it has been another step
toward their goal. Knowing this, it is always a shock on meeting
the mediocre people who form such a discouraging majority in any
society, to discover that they are all so pleased with themselves,
their achievements, their place in the world, and their own ability
Who has not sat chafing in silence while Mediocrity, in a white
waistcoat and jangling fobs, occupied the after-dinner hour in
imparting second-hand information as his personal views on
literature and art? Can you not hear him saying once again: "I
don't pretend to know anything about art and all that sort of
thing, you know, but when I go to an exhibition I can always pick
out the best pictures at a glance. Sort of a way I have, and I
never make mistakes, you know."
Then go and watch, as I have, Henri Rochefort as he laboriously
forms the opinions that are to appear later in one of his "SALONS,"
realizing the while that he is FACILE PRINCEPS among the art
critics of his day, that with a line he can make or mar a
reputation and by a word draw the admiring crowd around an unknown
canvas. While Rochefort toils and ponders and hesitates, do you
suppose a doubt as to his own astuteness ever dims the self-
complacency of White Waistcoat? Never!
There lies the strength of the feeble-minded. By a special
dispensation of Providence, they can never see but one side of a
subject, so are always convinced that they are right, and from the
height of their contentment, look down on those who chance to
differ with them.
A lady who has gathered into her dainty salons the fruit of many
years' careful study and tireless "weeding" will ask anxiously if
you are quite sure you like the effect of her latest acquisition -
some eighteenth-century statuette or screen (flotsam, probably,
from the great shipwreck of Versailles), and listen earnestly to
your verdict. The good soul who has just furnished her house by
contract, with the latest "Louis Fourteenth Street" productions,
conducts you complacently through her chambers of horrors, wreathed
in tranquil smiles, born of ignorance and that smug assurance
granted only to the - small.
When a small intellect goes in for cultivating itself and improving
its mind, you realize what the poet meant in asserting that a
little learning was a dangerous thing. For Mediocrity is apt, when
it dines out, to get up a subject beforehand, and announce to an
astonished circle, as quite new and personal discoveries, that the
Renaissance was introduced into France from Italy, or that Columbus
in his day made important "finds."
When the incompetent advance another step and write or paint -
which, alas! is only too frequent - the world of art and literature
is flooded with their productions. When White Waistcoat, for
example, takes to painting, late in life, and comes to you, canvas
in hand, for criticism (read praise), he is apt to remark modestly:
"Corot never painted until he was fifty, and I am only forty-eight.
So I feel I should not let myself be discouraged."
The problem of life is said to be the finding of a happiness that
is not enjoyed at the expense of others, and surely this class have
solved that Sphinx's riddle, for they float through their days in a
dream of complacency disturbed neither by corroding doubt nor
harassed by jealousies.
Whole families of feeble-minded people, on the strength of an
ancestor who achieved distinction a hundred years ago, live in
constant thanksgiving that they "are not as other men." None of
the great man's descendants have done anything to be particularly
proud of since their remote progenitor signed the Declaration of
Independence or governed a colony. They have vegetated in small
provincial cities and inter-married into other equally fortunate
families, but the sense of superiority is ever present to sustain
them, under straitened circumstances and diminishing prestige. The
world may move on around them, but they never advance. Why should
they? They have reached perfection. The brains and enterprise
that have revolutionized our age knock in vain at their doors.
They belong to that vast "majority that is always in the wrong,"
being so pleased with themselves, their ways, and their feeble
little lines of thought, that any change or advancement gives their
system a shock.
A painter I know was once importuned for a sketch by a lady of this
class. After many delays and renewed demands he presented her one
day, when she and some friends were visiting his studio, with a
delightful open-air study simply framed. She seemed confused at
the offering, to his astonishment, as she had not lacked APLOMB in
asking for the sketch. After much blushing and fumbling she
succeeded in getting the painting loose, and handing back the
"I will take the painting, but you must keep the frame. My husband
would never allow me to accept anything of value from you!" - and
smiled on the speechless painter, doubtless charmed with her own
Complacent people are the same drag on a society that a brake would
be to a coach going up hill. They are the "eternal negative" and
would extinguish, if they could, any light stronger than that to
which their weak eyes have been accustomed. They look with
astonishment and distrust at any one trying to break away from
their tiresome old ways and habits, and wonder why all the world is
not as pleased with their personalities as they are themselves,
suggesting, if you are willing to waste your time listening to
their twaddle, that there is something radically wrong in any
innovation, that both "Church and State" will be imperilled if
things are altered. No blight, no mildew is more fatal to a plant
than the "complacent" are to the world. They resent any progress
and are offended if you mention before them any new standards or
points of view. "What has been good enough for us and our parents
should certainly be satisfactory to the younger generations." It
seems to the contented like pure presumption on the part of their
acquaintances to wander after strange gods, in the shape of new
ideals, higher standards of culture, or a perfected refinement of
We are perhaps wrong to pity complacent people. It is for another
class our sympathy should be kept; for those who cannot refrain
from doubting of themselves and the value of their work - those
unfortunate gifted and artistic spirits who descend too often the
VIA DOLOROSA of discontent and despair, who have a higher ideal
than their neighbors, and, in struggling after an unattainable
perfection, fall by the wayside.
CHAPTER 7 - The Discontent of Talent
THE complacency that buoys up self-sufficient souls, soothing them
with the illusion that they themselves, their towns, country,
language, and habits are above improvement, causing them to
shudder, as at a sacrilege, if any changes are suggested, is
fortunately limited to a class of stay-at-home nonentities. In
proportion as it is common among them, is it rare or delightfully
absent in any society of gifted or imaginative people.
Among our globe-trotting compatriots this defect is much less
general than in the older nations of the world, for the excellent
reason, that the moment a man travels or takes the trouble to know
people of different nationalities, his armor of complacency
receives so severe a blow, that it is shattered forever, the
wanderer returning home wiser and much more modest. There seems to
be something fatal to conceit in the air of great centres;
professionally or in general society a man so soon finds his level.
The "great world" may foster other faults; human nature is sure to
develop some in every walk of life. Smug contentment, however,
disappears in its rarefied atmosphere, giving place to a craving
for improvement, a nervous alertness that keeps the mind from
stagnating and urges it on to do its best.
It is never the beautiful woman who sits down in smiling serenity
before her mirror. She is tireless in her efforts to enhance her
beauty and set it off to the best advantage. Her figure is never
slender enough, nor her carriage sufficiently erect to satisfy.
But the "frump" will let herself and all her surroundings go to
seed, not from humbleness of mind or an overwhelming sense of her
own unworthiness, but in pure complacent conceit.
A criticism to which the highly gifted lay themselves open from
those who do not understand them, is their love of praise, the
critics failing to grasp the fact that this passion for measuring
one's self with others, like the gad-fly pursuing poor Io, never
allows a moment's repose in the green pastures of success, but
goads them constantly up the rocky sides of endeavor. It is not
that they love flattery, but that they need approbation as a
counterpoise to the dark moments of self-abasement and as a
sustaining aid for higher flights.
Many years ago I was present at a final sitting which my master,
Carolus Duran, gave to one of my fair compatriots. He knew that
the lady was leaving Paris on the morrow, and that in an hour, her
husband and his friends were coming to see and criticise the
portrait - always a terrible ordeal for an artist.
To any one familiar with this painter's moods, it was evident that
the result of the sitting was not entirely satisfactory. The quick
breathing, the impatient tapping movement of the foot, the swift
backward springs to obtain a better view, so characteristic of him
in moments of doubt, and which had twenty years before earned him
the name of LE DANSEUR from his fellow-copyists at the Louvre,
betrayed to even a casual observer that his discouragement and
discontent were at boiling point.
The sound of a bell and a murmur of voices announced the entrance
of the visitors into the vast studio. After the formalities of
introduction had been accomplished the new-comers glanced at the
portrait, but uttered never a word. From it they passed in a
perfectly casual manner to an inspection of the beautiful contents
of the room, investigating the tapestries, admiring the armor, and
finally, after another glance at the portrait, the husband
remarked: "You have given my wife a jolly long neck, haven't you?"
and, turning to his friends, began laughing and chatting in
If vitriol had been thrown on my poor master's quivering frame, the
effect could not have been more instantaneous, his ignorance of the
language spoken doubtless exaggerating his impression of being
ridiculed. Suddenly he turned very white, and before any of us had
divined his intention he had seized a Japanese sword lying by and
cut a dozen gashes across the canvas. Then, dropping his weapon,
he flung out of the room, leaving his sitter and her friends in
speechless consternation, to wonder then and ever after in what way
they had offended him. In their opinions, if a man had talent and
understood his business, he should produce portraits with the same
ease that he would answer dinner invitations, and if they paid for,
they were in no way bound also to praise, his work. They were
entirely pleased with the result, but did not consider it necessary
to tell him so, no idea having crossed their minds that he might be
in one of those moods so frequent with artistic natures, when words
of approbation and praise are as necessary to them, as the air we
breathe is to us, mortals of a commoner clay.
Even in the theatrical and operatic professions, those hotbeds of
conceit, you will generally find among the "stars" abysmal depths
of discouragement and despair. One great tenor, who has delighted
New York audiences during several winters past, invariably
announces to his intimates on arising that his "voice has gone,"
and that, in consequence he will "never sing again," and has to be
caressed and cajoled back into some semblance of confidence before
attempting a performance. This same artist, with an almost
limitless repertoire and a reputation no new successes could
enhance, recently risked all to sing what he considered a higher
class of music, infinitely more fatiguing to his voice, because he
was impelled onward by the ideal that forces genius to constant
improvement and development of its powers.
What the people who meet these artists occasionally at a private
concert or behind the scenes during the intense strain of a
representation, take too readily for monumental egoism and conceit,
is, the greater part of the time, merely the desire for a
sustaining word, a longing for the stimulant of praise.
All actors and singers are but big children, and must be humored
and petted like children when you wish them to do their best. It
is necessary for them to feel in touch with their audiences; to be
assured that they are not falling below the high ideals formed for
Some winters ago a performance at the opera nearly came to a
standstill because an all-conquering soprano was found crying in
her dressing-room. After many weary moments of consolation and
questioning, it came out that she felt quite sure she no longer had
any talent. One of the other singers had laughed at her voice, and
in consequence there was nothing left to live for. A half-hour
later, owing to judicious "treatment," she was singing gloriously
and bowing her thanks to thunders of applause.
Rather than blame this divine discontent that has made man what he
is to-day, let us glorify and envy it, pitying the while the frail
mortal vessels it consumes with its flame. No adulation can turn
such natures from their goal, and in the hour of triumph the slave
is always at their side to whisper the word of warning. This
discontent is the leaven that has raised the whole loaf of dull
humanity to better things and higher efforts, those privileged to
feel it are the suns that illuminate our system. If on these
luminaries observers have discovered spots, it is well to remember
that these blemishes are but the defects of their qualities, and
better far than the total eclipse that shrouds so large a part of
humanity in colorless complacency.
It will never be known how many master-pieces have been lost to the
world because at the critical moment a friend has not been at hand
with the stimulant of sympathy and encouragement needed by an
overworked, straining artist who was beginning to lose confidence
in himself; to soothe his irritated nerves with the balm of praise,
and take his poor aching head on a friendly shoulder and let him
sob out there all his doubt and discouragement.
So let us not be niggardly or ungenerous in meting out to
struggling fellow-beings their share, and perchance a little more
than their share of approbation and applause, poor enough return,
after all, for the pleasure their labors have procured us. What
adequate compensation can we mete out to an author for the hours of
delight and self-forgetfulness his talent has brought to us in
moments of loneliness, illness, or grief? What can pay our debt to
a painter who has fixed on canvas the face we love?
The little return that it is in our power to make for all the joy
these gifted fellow-beings bring into our lives is (closing our
eyes to minor imperfections) to warmly applaud them as they move
upward, along their stony path.
CHAPTER 8 - Slouch
I SHOULD like to see, in every school-room of our growing country,
in every business office, at the railway stations, and on street
corners, large placards placed with "Do not slouch" printed thereon
in distinct and imposing characters. If ever there was a tendency
that needed nipping in the bud (I fear the bud is fast becoming a
full-blown flower), it is this discouraging national failing.
Each year when I return from my spring wanderings, among the
benighted and effete nations of the Old World, on whom the
untravelled American looks down from the height of his superiority,
I am struck anew by the contrast between the trim, well-groomed
officials left behind on one side of the ocean and the happy-go-
lucky, slouching individuals I find on the other.
As I ride up town this unpleasant impression deepens. In the
"little Mother Isle" I have just left, bus-drivers have quite a
coaching air, with hat and coat of knowing form. They sport
flowers in their button-holes and salute other bus-drivers, when
they meet, with a twist of whip and elbow refreshingly correct,
showing that they take pride in their calling, and have been at
some pains to turn themselves out as smart in appearance as
finances would allow.
Here, on the contrary, the stage and cab drivers I meet seem to be
under a blight, and to have lost all interest in life. They lounge
on the box, their legs straggling aimlessly, one hand holding the
reins, the other hanging dejectedly by the side. Yet there is
little doubt that these heartbroken citizens are earning double
what their London CONFRERES gain. The shadow of the national
peculiarity is over them.
When I get to my rooms, the elevator boy is reclining in the lift,
and hardly raises his eye-lids as he languidly manoeuvres the rope.
I have seen that boy now for months, but never when his boots and
clothes were brushed or when his cravat was not riding proudly
above his collar. On occasions I have offered him pins, which he
took wearily, doubtless because it was less trouble than to refuse.
The next day, however, his cravat again rode triumphant, mocking my
efforts to keep it in its place. His hair, too, has been a cause
of wonder to me. How does he manage to have it always so long and
so unkempt? More than once, when expecting callers, I have bribed
him to have it cut, but it seemed to grow in the night, back to its
In what does this noble disregard for appearances which
characterizes American men originate? Our climate, as some
suggest, or discouragement at not all being millionaires? It more
likely comes from an absence with us of the military training that
abroad goes so far toward licking young men into shape.
I shall never forget the surprise on the face of a French statesman
to whom I once expressed my sympathy for his country, laboring
under the burden of so vast a standing army. He answered:
"The financial burden is doubtless great; but you have others.
Witness your pension expenditures. With us the money drawn from
the people is used in such a way as to be of inestimable value to
them. We take the young hobbledehoy farm-hand or mechanic,
ignorant, mannerless, uncleanly as he may be, and turn him out at
the end of three years with his regiment, self-respecting and well-
mannered, with habits of cleanliness and obedience, having acquired
a bearing, and a love of order that will cling to and serve him all
his life. We do not go so far," he added, "as our English
neighbors in drilling men into superb manikins of 'form' and
carriage. Our authorities do not consider it necessary. But we
reclaim youths from the slovenliness of their native village or
workshop and make them tidy and mannerly citizens."
These remarks came to mind the other day as I watched a group of
New England youths lounging on the steps of the village store, or
sitting in rows on a neighboring fence, until I longed to try if
even a judicial arrangement of tacks, 'business-end up,' on these
favorite seats would infuse any energy into their movements. I
came to the conclusion that my French acquaintance was right, for
the only trim-looking men to be seen, were either veterans of our
war or youths belonging to the local militia. And nowhere does one
see finer specimens of humanity than West Point and Annapolis turn
If any one doubts what kind of men slouching youths develop into,
let him look when he travels, at the dejected appearance of the
farmhouses throughout our land. Surely our rural populations are
not so much poorer than those of other countries. Yet when one
compares the dreary homes of even our well-to-do farmers with the
smiling, well-kept hamlets seen in England or on the Continent,
such would seem to be the case.
If ours were an old and bankrupt nation, this air of discouragement
and decay could not be greater. Outside of the big cities one
looks in vain for some sign of American dash and enterprise in the
appearance of our men and their homes.
During a journey of over four thousand miles, made last spring as
the guest of a gentleman who knows our country thoroughly, I was
impressed most painfully with this abject air. Never in all those
days did we see a fruit-tree trained on some sunny southern wall, a
smiling flower-garden or carefully clipped hedge. My host told me
that hardly the necessary vegetables are grown, the inhabitants of
the West and South preferring canned food. It is less trouble!
If you wish to form an idea of the extent to which slouch prevails
in our country, try to start a "village improvement society," and
experience, as others have done, the apathy and ill-will of the
inhabitants when you go about among them and strive to summon some
of their local pride to your aid.
In the town near which I pass my summers, a large stone, fallen
from a passing dray, lay for days in the middle of the principal
street, until I paid some boys to remove it. No one cared, and the
dull-eyed inhabitants would doubtless be looking at it still but
for my impatience.
One would imagine the villagers were all on the point of moving
away (and they generally are, if they can sell their land), so
little interest do they show in your plans. Like all people who
have fallen into bad habits, they have grown to love their
slatternly ways and cling to them, resenting furiously any attempt
to shake them up to energy and reform.
The farmer has not, however, a monopoly. Slouch seems ubiquitous.
Our railway and steam-boat systems have tried in vain to combat it,
and supplied their employees with a livery (I beg the free and
independent voter's pardon, a uniform!), with but little effect.
The inherent tendency is too strong for the corporations. The
conductors still shuffle along in their spotted garments, the cap
on the back of the head, and their legs anywhere, while they chew
gum in defiance of the whole Board of Directors.
Go down to Washington, after a visit to the Houses of Parliament or
the Chamber of Deputies, and observe the contrast between the
bearing of our Senators and Representatives and the air of their
CONFRERES abroad. Our law-makers seem trying to avoid every
appearance of "smartness." Indeed, I am told, so great is the
prejudice in the United States against a well-turned-out man that a
candidate would seriously compromise his chances of election who
appeared before his constituents in other than the accustomed
shabby frock-coat, unbuttoned and floating, a pot hat, no gloves,
as much doubtfully white shirt-front as possible, and a wisp of
black silk for a tie; and if he can exhibit also a chin-whisker,
his chances of election are materially increased.
Nothing offends an eye accustomed to our native LAISSER ALLER so
much as a well-brushed hat and shining boots. When abroad, it is
easy to spot a compatriot as soon and as far as you can see one, by
his graceless gait, a cross between a lounge and a shuffle. In
reading-, or dining-room, he is the only man whose spine does not
seem equal to its work, so he flops and straggles until, for the
honor of your land, you long to shake him and set him squarely on
No amount of reasoning can convince me that outward slovenliness is
not a sign of inward and moral supineness. A neglected exterior
generally means a lax moral code. The man who considers it too
much trouble to sit erect can hardly have given much time to his
tub or his toilet. Having neglected his clothes, he will neglect
his manners, and between morals and manners we know the tie is
In the Orient a new reign is often inaugurated by the construction
of a mosque. Vast expense is incurred to make it as splendid as
possible. But, once completed, it is never touched again. Others
are built by succeeding sovereigns, but neither thought nor
treasure is ever expended on the old ones. When they can no longer
be used, they are abandoned, and fall into decay. The same system
seems to prevail among our private owners and corporations.
Streets are paved, lamp-posts erected, store-fronts carefully
adorned, but from the hour the workman puts his finishing touch
upon them they are abandoned to the hand of fate. The mud may cake
up knee-deep, wind and weather work their own sweet will, it is no
one's business to interfere.
When abroad one of my amusements has been of an early morning to
watch Paris making its toilet. The streets are taking a bath,
liveried attendants are blacking the boots of the lamp-posts and
newspaper-KIOSQUES, the shop-fronts are being shaved and having
their hair curled, cafe's and restaurants are putting on clean
shirts and tying their cravats smartly before their many mirrors.
By the time the world is up and about, the whole city, smiling
freshly from its matutinal tub, is ready to greet it gayly.
It is this attention to detail that gives to Continental cities
their air of cheerfulness and thrift, and the utter lack of it that
impresses foreigners so painfully on arriving at our shores.
It has been the fashion to laugh at the dude and his high collar,
at the darky in his master's cast-off clothes, aping style and
fashion. Better the dude, better the colored dandy, better even
the Bowery "tough" with his affected carriage, for they at least
are reaching blindly out after something better than their
surroundings, striving after an ideal, and are in just so much the
superiors of the foolish souls who mock them - better, even
misguided efforts, than the ignoble stagnant quagmire of slouch
into which we seem to be slowly descending.
CHAPTER 9 - Social Suggestion
THE question of how far we are unconsciously influenced by people
and surroundings, in our likes and dislikes, our opinions, and even
in our pleasures and intimate tastes, is a delicate and interesting
one, for the line between success and failure in the world, as on
the stage or in most of the professions, is so narrow and depends
so often on what humor one's "public" happen to be in at a
particular moment, that the subject is worthy of consideration.
Has it never happened to you, for instance, to dine with friends
and go afterwards in a jolly humor to the play which proved so
delightful that you insist on taking your family immediately to see
it; when to your astonishment you discover that it is neither
clever nor amusing, on the contrary rather dull. Your family look
at you in amazement and wonder what you had seen to admire in such
an asinine performance. There was a case of suggestion! You had
been influenced by your friends and had shared their opinions. The
same thing occurs on a higher scale when one is raised out of one's
self by association with gifted and original people, a communion
with more cultivated natures which causes you to discover and
appreciate a thousand hidden beauties in literature, art or music
that left to yourself, you would have failed to notice. Under
these circumstances you will often be astonished at the point and
piquancy of your own conversation. This is but too true of a
number of subjects.
We fondly believe our opinions and convictions to be original, and
with innocent conceit, imagine that we have formed them for
ourselves. The illusion of being unlike other people is a common
vanity. Beware of the man who asserts such a claim. He is sure to
be a bore and will serve up to you, as his own, a muddle of ideas
and opinions which he has absorbed like a sponge from his
No place is more propitious for studying this curious phenomenon,
than behind the scenes of a theatre, the last few nights before a
first performance. The whole company is keyed up to a point of
mutual admiration that they are far from feeling generally. "The
piece is charming and sure to be a success." The author and the
interpreters of his thoughts are in complete communion. The first
night comes. The piece is a failure! Drop into the greenroom then
and you will find an astonishing change has taken place. The Star
will take you into a corner and assert that, she "always knew the
thing could not go, it was too imbecile, with such a company, it
was folly to expect anything else." The author will abuse the Star
and the management. The whole troupe is frankly disconcerted, like
people aroused out of a hypnotic sleep, wondering what they had
seen in the play to admire.
In the social world we are even more inconsistent, accepting with
tameness the most astonishing theories and opinions. Whole circles
will go on assuring each other how clever Miss So-and-So is, or,
how beautiful they think someone else. Not because these good
people are any cleverer, or more attractive than their neighbors,
but simply because it is in the air to have these opinions about
them. To such an extent does this hold good, that certain persons
are privileged to be vulgar and rude, to say impertinent things and
make remarks that would ostracize a less fortunate individual from
the polite world for ever; society will only smilingly shrug its
shoulders and say: "It is only Mr. So-and-So's way." It is useless
to assert that in cases like these, people are in possession of
their normal senses. They are under influences of which they are
Have you ever seen a piece guyed? Few sadder sights exist, the
human being rarely getting nearer the brute than when engaged in
this amusement. Nothing the actor or actress can do will satisfy
the public. Men who under ordinary circumstances would be
incapable of insulting a woman, will whistle and stamp and laugh,
at an unfortunate girl who is doing her utmost to amuse them. A
terrible example of this was given two winters ago at one of our
concert halls, when a family of Western singers were subjected to
absolute ill-treatment at the hands of the public. The young girls
were perfectly sincere, in their rude way, but this did not prevent
men from offering them every insult malice could devise, and making
them a target for every missile at hand. So little does the public
think for itself in cases like this, that at the opening of the
performance had some well-known person given the signal for
applause, the whole audience would, in all probability, have been
delighted and made the wretched sisters a success.
In my youth it was the fashion to affect admiration for the Italian
school of painting and especially for the great masters of the
Renaissance. Whole families of perfectly inartistic English and
Americans might then he heard conscientiously admiring the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel or Leonardo's Last Supper (Botticelli had not
been invented then) in the choicest guide-book language.
When one considers the infinite knowledge of technique required to
understand the difficulties overcome by the giants of the
Renaissance and to appreciate the intrinsic qualities of their
creations, one asks one's self in wonder what our parents admired
in those paintings, and what tempted them to bring home and adorn
their houses with such dreadful copies of their favorites. For if
they appreciated the originals they never would have bought the
copies, and if the copies pleased them, they must have been
incapable of enjoying the originals. Yet all these people thought
themselves perfectly sincere. To-day you will see the same thing
going on before the paintings of Claude Monet and Besnard, the same
admiration expressed by people who, you feel perfectly sure, do not
realize why these works of art are superior and can no more explain
to you why they think as they do than the sheep that follow each
other through a hole in a wall, can give a reason for their
Dress and fashion in clothes are subjects above all others, where
the ineptitude of the human mind is most evident. Can it be
explained in any other way, why the fashions of yesterday always
appear so hideous to us, - almost grotesque? Take up an old album
of photographs and glance over the faded contents. Was there ever
anything so absurd? Look at the top hats men wore, and at the
skirts of the women!
The mother of a family said to me the other day: "When I recall the
way in which girls were dressed in my youth, I wonder how any of us
ever got a husband."
Study a photograph of the Empress Eugenie, that supreme arbiter of
elegance and grace. Oh! those bunchy hooped skirts! That awful
India shawl pinned off the shoulders, and the bonnet perched on a
roll of hair in the nape of the neck! What were people thinking of
at that time? Were they lunatics to deform in this way the
beautiful lines of the human body which it should be the first
object of toilet to enhance, or were they only lacking in the
artistic sense? Nothing of the kind. And what is more, they were
convinced that the real secret of beauty in dress had been
discovered by them; that past fashions were absurd, and that the
future could not improve on their creations. The sculptors and
painters of that day (men of as great talent as any now living),
were enthusiastic in reproducing those monstrosities in marble or
on canvas, and authors raved about the ideal grace with which a
certain beauty draped her shawl.
Another marked manner in which we are influenced by circumambient
suggestion, is in the transient furore certain games and pastimes
create. We see intelligent people so given over to this influence
as barely to allow themselves time to eat and sleep, begrudging the
hours thus stolen from their favorite amusement.
Ten years ago, tennis occupied every moment of our young people's
time; now golf has transplanted tennis in public favor, which does
not prove, however, that the latter is the better game, but simply
that compelled by the accumulated force of other people's opinions,
youths and maidens, old duffers and mature spinsters are willing to
pass many hours daily in all kinds of weather, solemnly following
an indian-rubber ball across ten-acre lots.
If you suggest to people who are laboring under the illusion they
are amusing themselves that the game, absorbing so much of their
attention, is not as exciting as tennis nor as clever in
combinations as croquet, that in fact it would be quite as amusing
to roll an empty barrel several times around a plowed field, they
laugh at you in derision and instantly put you down in their
profound minds as a man who does not understand "sport."
Yet these very people were tennis-mad twenty years ago and had
night come to interrupt a game of croquet would have ordered
lanterns lighted in order to finish the match so enthralling were
Everybody has known how to play BEZIQUE in this country for years,
yet within the last eighteen months, whole circles of our friends
have been seized with a midsummer madness and willingly sat glued
to a card-table through long hot afternoons and again after dinner
until day dawned on their folly.
Certain MEMOIRES of Louis Fifteenth's reign tell of an
"unravelling" mania that developed at his court. It began by some
people fraying out old silks to obtain the gold and silver threads
from worn-out stuffs; this occupation soon became the rage, nothing
could restrain the delirium of destruction, great ladies tore
priceless tapestries from their walls and brocades from their
furniture, in order to unravel those materials and as the old stock
did not suffice for the demand thousands were spent on new brocades
and velvets, which were instantly destroyed, entertainments were
given where unravelling was the only amusement offered, the entire
court thinking and talking of nothing else for months.
What is the logical deduction to be drawn from all this? Simply
that people do not see with their eyes or judge with their
understandings; that an all-pervading hypnotism, an ambient
suggestion, at times envelops us taking from people all free will,
and replacing it with the taste and judgment of the moment.
The number of people is small in each generation, who are strong
enough to rise above their surroundings and think for themselves.
The rest are as dry leaves on a stream. They float along and turn
gayly in the eddies, convinced all the time (as perhaps are the
leaves) that they act entirely from their own volition and that
their movements are having a profound influence on the direction
and force of the current.
CHAPTER 10 - Bohemia
LUNCHING with a talented English comedian and his wife the other
day, the conversation turned on Bohemia, the evasive no-man's-land
that Thackeray referred to, in so many of his books, and to which
he looked back lovingly in his later years, when, as he said, he
had forgotten the road to Prague.
The lady remarked: "People have been more than kind to us here in
New York. We have dined and supped out constantly, and have met
with gracious kindness, such as we can never forget. But so far we
have not met a single painter, or author, or sculptor, or a man who
has explored a corner of the earth. Neither have we had the good
luck to find ourselves in the same room with Tesla or Rehan, Edison
or Drew. We shall regret so much when back in England and are
asked about your people of talent, being obliged to say, 'We never
met any of them.' Why is it? We have not been in any one circle,
and have pitched our tents in many cities, during our tours over
here, but always with the same result. We read your American
authors as much as, if not more than, our own. The names of dozens
of your discoverers and painters are household words in England.
When my husband planned his first tour over here my one idea was,
'How nice it will be! Now I shall meet those delightful people of
whom I have heard so much.' The disappointment has been complete.
Never one have I seen."
I could not but feel how all too true were the remarks of this
intelligent visitor, remembering how quick the society of London is
to welcome a new celebrity or original character, how a place is at
once made for him at every hospitable board, a permanent one to
which he is expected to return; and how no Continental
entertainment is considered complete without some bright particular
star to shine in the firmament.
"Lion-hunting," I hear my reader say with a sneer. That may be,
but it makes society worth the candle, which it rarely is over
here. I realized what I had often vaguely felt before, that the
Bohemia the English lady was looking for was not to be found in
this country, more's the pity. Not that the elements are lacking.
Far from it, (for even more than in London should we be able to
combine such a society), but perhaps from a misconception of the
true idea of such a society, due probably to Henry Murger's dreary
book SCENES DE LA VIE DE BOHEME which is chargeable with the fact
that a circle of this kind evokes in the mind of most Americans
visions of a scrubby, poorly-fed and less-washed community, a world
they would hardly dare ask to their tables for fear of some
embarrassing unconventionality of conduct or dress.
Yet that can hardly be the reason, for even in Murger or Paul de
Kock, at their worst, the hero is still a gentleman, and even when
he borrows a friend's coat, it is to go to a great house and among
people of rank. Besides, we are becoming too cosmopolitan, and
wander too constantly over this little globe, not to have learned
that the Bohemia of 1830 is as completely a thing of the past as a
GRISETTE or a glyphisodon. It disappeared with Gavarni and the
authors who described it. Although we have kept the word, its
meaning has gradually changed until it has come to mean something
difficult to define, a will-o'-the-wisp, which one tries vainly to
grasp. With each decade it has put on a new form and changed its
centre, the one definite fact being that it combines the better
elements of several social layers.
Drop in, if you are in Paris and know the way, at one of Madeleine
Lemaire's informal evenings in her studio. There you may find the
Prince de Ligne, chatting with Rejane or Coquelin; or Henri
d'Orleans, just back from an expedition into Africa. A little
further on, Saint-Saens will be running over the keys, preparing an
accompaniment for one of Madame de Tredern's songs. The Princess
Mathilde (that passionate lover of art) will surely be there, and -
but it is needless to particularize.
Cross the Channel, and get yourself asked to one of Irving's choice
suppers after the play. You will find the bar, the stage, and the
pulpit represented there, a "happy family" over which the "Prince"
often presides, smoking cigar after cigar, until the tardy London
daylight appears to break up the entertainment.
For both are centres where the gifted and the travelled meet the
great of the social world, on a footing of perfect equality, and
where, if any prestige is accorded, it is that of brains. When you
have seen these places and a dozen others like them, you will
realize what the actor's wife had in her mind.
Now, let me whisper to you why I think such circles do not exist in
this country. In the first place, we are still too provincial in
this big city of ours. New York always reminds me of a definition
I once heard of California fruit: "Very large, with no particular
flavor." We are like a boy, who has had the misfortune to grow too
quickly and look like a man, but whose mind has not kept pace with
his body. What he knows is undigested and chaotic, while his
appearance makes you expect more of him than he can give - hence
Our society is yet in knickerbockers, and has retained all sorts of
littlenesses and prejudices which older civilizations have long
since relegated to the mental lumber room. An equivalent to this
point of view you will find in England or France only in the
smaller "cathedral" cities, and even there the old aristocrats have
the courage of their opinions. Here, where everything is quite
frankly on a money basis, and "positions" are made and lost like a
fortune, by a turn of the market, those qualities which are purely
mental, and on which it is hard to put a practical value, are
naturally at a discount. We are quite ready to pay for the best.
Witness our private galleries and the opera, but we say, like the
parvenu in Emile Augier's delightful comedy LE GENDRE DE M.
POIRIER, "Patronize art? Of course! But the artists? Never!"
And frankly, it would be too much, would it not, to expect a family
only half a generation away from an iron foundry, or a mine, to be
willing to receive Irving or Bernhardt on terms of perfect
As it would be unjust to demand a mature mind in the overgrown boy,
it is useless to hope for delicate tact and social feeling from the
parvenu. To be gracious and at ease with all classes and
professions, one must be perfectly sure of one's own position, and
with us few feel this security, it being based on too frail a
foundation, a crisis in the "street" going a long way towards
Of course I am generalizing and doubt not that in many cultivated
homes the right spirit exists, but unfortunately these are not the
centres which give the tone to our "world." Lately at one of the
most splendid houses in this city a young Italian tenor had been
engaged to sing. When he had finished he stood alone, unnoticed,
unspoken to for the rest of the evening. He had been paid to sing.
"What more, in common sense, could he want?" thought the "world,"
without reflecting that it was probably not the TENOR who lost by
that arrangement. It needs a delicate hand to hold the reins over
the backs of such a fine-mouthed community as artists and singers
form. They rarely give their best when singing or performing in a
A few years ago when a fancy-dress ball was given at the Academy of
Design, the original idea was to have it an artists' ball; the
community of the brush were, however, approached with such a
complete lack of tact that, with hardly an exception, they held
aloof, and at the ball shone conspicuous by their absence.
At present in this city I know of but two hospitable firesides
where you are sure to meet the best the city holds of either
foreign or native talent. The one is presided over by the wife of
a young composer, and the other, oddly enough, by two unmarried
ladies. An invitation to a dinner or a supper at either of these
houses is as eagerly sought after and as highly prized in the great
world as it is by the Bohemians, though neither "salon" is open
There is still hope for us, and I already see signs of better
things. Perhaps, when my English friend returns in a few years, we
may be able to prove to her that we have found the road to Prague.
CHAPTER 11 - Social Exiles
BALZAC, in his COMEDIE HUMAINE, has reviewed with a master-hand
almost every phase of the Social World of Paris down to 1850 and
Thackeray left hardly a corner of London High Life unexplored; but
so great have been the changes (progress, its admirers call it,)
since then, that, could Balzac come back to his beloved Paris, he
would feel like a foreigner there; and Thackeray, who was among us
but yesterday, would have difficulty in finding his bearings in the
sea of the London world to-day.
We have changed so radically that even a casual observer cannot
help being struck by the difference. Among other most significant
"phenomena" has appeared a phase of life that not only neither of
these great men observed (for the very good reason that it had not
appeared in their time), but which seems also to have escaped the
notice of the writers of our own day, close observers as they are
of any new development. I mean the class of Social Exiles,
pitiable wanderers from home and country, who haunt the Continent,
and are to be found (sad little colonies) in out-of-the-way corners
of almost every civilized country.
To know much of this form of modern life, one must have been a
wanderer, like myself, and have pitched his tent in many queer
places; for they are shy game and not easily raised, frequenting
mostly quiet old cities like Versailles and Florence, or
inexpensive watering-places where their meagre incomes become
affluence by contrast. The first thought on dropping in on such a
settlement is, "How in the world did these people ever drift here?"
It is simple enough and generally comes about in this way:
The father of a wealthy family dies. The fortune turns out to be
less than was expected. The widow and children decide to go abroad
for a year or so, during their period of mourning, partially for
distraction, and partially (a fact which is not spoken of) because
at home they would be forced to change their way of living to a
simpler one, and that is hard to do, just at first. Later they
think it will be quite easy. So the family emigrates, and after a
little sight-seeing, settles in Dresden or Tours, casually at
first, in a hotel. If there are young children they are made the
excuse. "The languages are so important!" Or else one of the
daughters develops a taste for music, or a son takes up the study
of art. In a year or two, before a furnished apartment is taken,
the idea of returning is discussed, but abandoned "for the
present." They begin vaguely to realize how difficult it will be
to take life up again at home. During all this time their income
(like everything else when the owners are absent) has been slowly
but surely disappearing, making the return each year more
difficult. Finally, for economy, an unfurnished apartment is
taken. They send home for bits of furniture and family belongings,
and gradually drop into the great army of the expatriated.
Oh, the pathos of it! One who has not seen these poor stranded
waifs in their self-imposed exile, with eyes turned towards their
native land, cannot realize all the sadness and loneliness they
endure, rarely adopting the country of their residence but becoming
more firmly American as the years go by. The home papers and
periodicals are taken, the American church attended, if there
happens to be one; the English chapel, if there is not. Never a
French church! In their hearts they think it almost irreverent to
read the service in French. The acquaintance of a few fellow-
exiles is made and that of a half-dozen English families, mothers
and daughters and a younger son or two, whom the ferocious
primogeniture custom has cast out of the homes of their childhood
to economize on the Continent.
I have in my mind a little settlement of this kind at Versailles,
which was a type. The formal old city, fallen from its grandeur,
was a singularly appropriate setting to the little comedy. There
the modest purses of the exiles found rents within their reach, the
quarters vast and airy. The galleries and the park afforded a
diversion, and then Paris, dear Paris, the American Mecca, was
within reach. At the time I knew it, the colony was fairly
prosperous, many of its members living in the two or three
principal PENSIONS, the others in apartments of their own. They
gave feeble little entertainments among themselves, card-parties
and teas, and dined about with each other at their respective
TABLES D'HOTE, even knowing a stray Frenchman or two, whom the
quest of a meal had tempted out of their native fastnesses as it
does the wolves in a hard winter. Writing and receiving letters
from America was one of the principal occupations, and an epistle
descriptive of a particular event at home went the rounds, and was
eagerly read and discussed.
The merits of the different PENSIONS also formed a subject of vital
interest. The advantages and disadvantages of these rival
establishments were, as a topic, never exhausted. MADAME UNE TELLE
gave five o'clock tea, included in the seven francs a day, but her
rival gave one more meat course at dinner and her coffee was
certainly better, while a third undoubtedly had a nicer set of
people. No one here at home can realize the importance these
matters gradually assume in the eyes of the exiles. Their slender
incomes have to be so carefully handled to meet the strain of even
this simple way of living, if they are to show a surplus for a
little trip to the seashore in the summer months, that an extra
franc a day becomes a serious consideration.
Every now and then a family stronger-minded than the others, or
with serious reasons for returning home (a daughter to bring out or
a son to put into business), would break away from its somnolent
surroundings and re-cross the Atlantic, alternating between hope
and fear. It is here that a sad fate awaits these modern Rip Van
Winkles. They find their native cities changed beyond recognition.
(For we move fast in these days.) The mother gets out her visiting
list of ten years before and is thunderstruck to find that it
contains chiefly names of the "dead, the divorced, and defaulted."
The waves of a decade have washed over her place and the world she
once belonged to knows her no more. The leaders of her day on
whose aid she counted have retired from the fray. Younger, and
alas! unknown faces sit in the opera boxes and around the dinner
tables where before she had found only friends. After a feeble
little struggle to get again into the "swim," the family drifts
back across the ocean into the quiet back water of a continental
town, and goes circling around with the other twigs and dry leaves,
moral flotsam and jetsam, thrown aside by the great rush of the
For the parents the life is not too sad. They have had their day,
and are, perhaps, a little glad in their hearts of a quiet old age,
away from the heat and sweat of the battle; but for the younger
generation it is annihilation. Each year their circle grows
smaller. Death takes away one member after another of the family,
until one is left alone in a foreign land with no ties around her,
or with her far-away "home," the latter more a name now than a
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