THE POTIPHAR PAPERS
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS
"Imagination fondly stoops to trace The parlor splendors of that festive place."
Goldsmith's Deserted Village.
"Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarise or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."
Burke's First Letter on a Regicide Peace.
"And I do seriously approve of that saying of yours, 'that you would rather be a civil, well-governed, well-grounded, temperate, poor angler, than a drunken lord.' But I hope there is none such."
"'Mon petit faquin de philosophe,' dit le Chevalier de Grammont, 'tu fais ici le Caton de Normandie.'"
"'Est-ce que je mens?' poursuivit Saint-Evremond."
Memoires de Grammont.
PREFATORY LETTER TO REV. CREAM CHEESE.
REV. AND DEAR SIR:
It is surely unnecessary to call the attention of so astute an observer, and so austere a critic, as yourself, to the fact that the title of the leading essay in this little volume (of which, permit me to say, you are so essential an ornament) is marked as a quotation; and a quotation, as you will very well remember, from the lips of our friend, Mrs, Potiphar, herself.
Therefore, Rev. Sir, your judgment, which, you must allow me to say, is no less impartial than your experience is profound, will suggest to you that the subject of that essay (of the points of which the succeeding sketches are but elaborations) is the aspect of what is currently termed "our best society"—whether with reason or not, is beside the purpose.
Your pastoral charity, I am convinced, will persuade you to direct the attention of your parishioners to this fact, and to assure them, that, when you prepared your timely treatise upon the progress of purple chasubles among the Feejee islanders, you were not justly amenable to the charge of omitting all notice of the cultivation of artificial flowers by the Grim Tartars. The latter are, I believe, a very estimable people, but they were not the subjects of your consideration.
To those in your parish, and elsewhere, who have thought fit to suppose that Mrs. Potiphar is Mrs. Somebody-else,—what can we say? conscious as we are, that they who have once known that lady could never confound her with another.
But for those who have actually supposed you, yourself, Reverend Sir, to be, not somebody else, but nobody, (!) we can only smile compassionately, and express the hope that a broader experience may give them greater wisdom.
In taking leave of you, Sir, I know that I express the warmest wish of a large, a very large parish (might almost say, diocese) that you may long survive. For your parish is fully, and, as I think, most correctly persuaded, that while there is a Cream Cheese, there will always be a Mrs. Potiphar.
With all proper regard,
Reverend and Dear Sir,
Your very obedient,
NEW YORK, December, 1853.
"OUR BEST SOCIETY."
If gilt were only gold, or sugar-candy common sense, what a fine thing our society would be! If to lavish money upon objets de vertu, to wear the most costly dresses, and always to have them cut in the height of the fashion; to build houses thirty feet broad, as if they were palaces; to furnish them with all the luxurious devices of Parisian genius; to give superb banquets; at which your guests laugh, and which make you miserable; to drive a fine carriage and ape the European liveries, and crests, and coats-of-arms; to resent the friendly advances of your baker's wife, and the lady of your butcher, (you being yourself a cobbler's daughter); to talk much of the "old families" and of your aristocratic foreign friends; to despise labour; to prate of "good society;" to travesty and parody, in every conceivable way, a society which we know only in books and by the superficial observation of foreign travel, which arises out of a social organization entirely unknown to us, and which is opposed to our fundamental and essential principles; if all this were fine, what a prodigiously fine society would ours be!
This occurred to us upon lately receiving a card of invitation to a brilliant ball. We were quietly ruminating over our evening fire, with Disraeli's Wellington speech, "all tears," in our hands, with the account of a great man's burial, and a little man's triumph across the channel. So many great men gone, we mused, and such great crises impending! This democratic movement in Europe; Kossuth—and Mazzini waiting for the moment to give the word; the Russian bear watchfully sucking his paws; the Napoleonic empire redivivus; Cuba, and annexation, and slavery; California and Australia, and the consequent considerations of political economy; dear me! exclaimed we, putting on a fresh hodful of coal, we must look a little into the state of parties.
As we put down the coal-scuttle there was a knock at the door. We said, "come in," and in came a neat Alhambra-watered envelope, containing the announcement that the queen of fashion was "at home" that evening week. Later in the evening came a friend to smoke a cigar. The card was lying upon the table, and he read it with eagerness. "You'll go, of course," said he, "for you will meet all the 'best society.'"
Shall we, truly? Shall we really see the "best society of the city," the picked flower of its genius, character, and beauty? What makes the "best society" of men and women? The noblest specimens of each, of course. The men who mould the time, who refresh our faith in heroism and virtue, who make Plato and Zeno, and Shakespeare, and all Shakespeare's gentlemen, possible, again. The women, whose beauty, and sweetness, and dignity, and high accomplishment, and grace, make us understand the Greek Mythology, and weaken our desire to have some glimpse of the most famous women of history. The "best society" is that in which the virtues are most shining, which is the most charitable, forgiving, long-suffering, modest, and innocent. The "best society" is, in its very name, that in which there is the least hypocrisy and insincerity of all kinds, which recoils from, and blasts, artificiality, which is anxious to be all that it is possible to be, and which sternly reprobates all shallow pretence, all coxcombry and foppery, and insists upon simplicity as the infallible characteristic of true worth. That is the "best society," which comprises the best men and women.
Had we recently arrived from the moon, we might, upon hearing that we were to meet the "best society," have fancied that we were about to enjoy an opportunity not to be overvalued. But unfortunately we were not so freshly arrived. We had received other cards, and had perfected our toilette many times, to meet this same society, so magnificently described, and had found it the least "best" of all. Who compose it? Whom shall we meet if we go to this ball? We shall meet three classes of persons: first, those who are rich, and who have all that money can buy; second, those who belong to what are technically called "the good old families," because some ancestor was a man of mark in the state or country, or was very rich, and has kept the fortune in the family; and thirdly, a swarm of youths who can dance dexterously, and who are invited for that purpose. Now these are all arbitrary and factitious distinctions upon which to found so profound a social difference as that which exists in American, or, at least, in New York society. First, as a general rule, the rich men of every community who make their own money are not the most generally intelligent and cultivated. They have a shrewd talent which secures a fortune, and which keeps them closely at the work of amassing from their youngest years until they are old. They are sturdy men of simple tastes often. Sometimes, though rarely, very generous, but necessarily with an altogether false and exaggerated idea of the importance of money. They are rather rough, unsympathetic, and, perhaps, selfish class, who, themselves, despise purple and fine linen, and still prefer a cot-bed and a bare room, although they may be worth millions. But they are married to scheming, or ambitious, or disappointed women, whose life is a prolonged pageant, and they are dragged hither and thither in it, are bled of their golden blood, and forced into a position they do not covet and which they despise. Then there are the inheritors of wealth. How many of them inherit the valiant genius and hard frugality which built up their fortunes; how many acknowledge the stern and heavy responsibility of their opportunities; how many refuse to dream their lives away in a Sybarite luxury; how many are smitten with the lofty ambition of achieving an enduring name by works of a permanent value; how many do not dwindle into dainty dilettanti, and dilute their manhood with factitious sentimentality instead of a hearty human sympathy; how many are not satisfied with having the fastest horses and the "crackest" carriages, and an unlimited wardrobe, and a weak affectation and puerile imitation of foreign life?
And who are these of our secondly, these "old families"? The spirit of our time and of our country knows no such thing, but the habitue of society hears constantly of "a good family." It means simply, the collective mass of children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and descendants of some man who deserved well of his country, and whom his country honors. But sad is the heritage of a great name! The son of Burke will inevitably be measured by Burke. The niece of Pope must show some superiority to other women (so to speak), or her equality is inferiority. The feeling of men attributes some magical charm to blood, and we look to see the daughter of Helen as fair as her mother, and the son of Shakespeare musical as his sire. If they are not so, if they are merely names, and common persons—if there is no Burke, nor Shakespeare, nor Washington, nor Bacon, in their words, or actions, or lives, then we must pity them, and pass gently on, not upbraiding them, but regretting that it is one of the laws of greatness that it dwindles all things in its vicinity, which would otherwise show large enough. Nay, in our regard for the great man, we may even admit to a compassionate honor, as pensioners upon our charity, those who bear and transmit his name. But if these heirs should presume upon that fame, and claim any precedence of living men and women because their dead grandfather was a hero,—they must be shown the door directly. We should dread to be born a Percy, or a Colonna, or a Bonaparte. We should not like to be the second Duke of Wellington, nor Charles Dickens, jr. It is a terrible thing one would say, to a mind of honorable feeling, to be pointed out as somebody's son, or uncle, or granddaughter, as if the excellence were all derived. It must be a little humiliating to reflect that if your great uncle had not been somebody, you would be nobody,—that in fact, you are only a name, and that, if you should consent to change it for the sake of a fortune, as is sometimes done, you would cease to be any thing but a rich man. "My father was President, or Governor of the State," some pompous man may say. But, by Jupiter! king of gods and men, what are you? is the instinctive response. Do you not see, our pompous friend, that you are only pointing your own unimportance? If your father was Governor of the State, what right have you to use that fact only to fatten your self-conceit? Take care, good care; for whether you say it by your lips or by your life that withering response awaits you,—"then what are you?" If your ancestor was great, you are under bonds to greatness. If you are small, make haste to learn it betimes, and, thanking Heaven that your name has been made illustrious, retire into a corner and keep it, at least, untarnished.
Our thirdly, is a class made by sundry French tailors, bootmakers, dancing-masters, and Mr. Brown. They are a corps-de-ballet, for the use of private entertainments. They are fostered by society for the use of young debutantes, and hardier damsels, who have dared two or three years of the "tight" polka. They are cultivated for their heels, not their heads. Their life begins at ten o'clock in the evening, and lasts until four in the morning. They go home and sleep until nine; then they reel, sleepy, to counting-houses and offices, and doze on desks until dinner-time. Or, unable to do that, they are actively at work all day, and their cheeks grow pale, and their lips thin, and their eyes bloodshot and hollow, and they drag themselves home at evening to catch a nap until the ball begins, or to dine and smoke at their club, and be very manly with punches and coarse stories; and then to rush into hot and glittering rooms and seize very decollete girls closely around the waist, and dash with them around an area of stretched linen, saying in the panting pauses, "How very hot it is!" "How very pretty Miss Podge looks!" "What a good redowa!" "Are you going to Mrs. Potiphar's?"
Is this the assembled flower of manhood and womanhood, called "best society," and to see which is so envied a privilege? If such are the elements, can we be long in arriving at the present state, and necessary future condition of parties?
"Vanity Fair," is peculiarly a picture of modern society. It aims at English follies, but its mark is universal, as the madness is. It is called a satire, but after much diligent reading, we cannot discover the satire. A state of society not at all superior to that of "Vanity Fair" is not unknown to our experience; and, unless truth-telling be satire; unless the most tragically real portraiture be satire; unless scalding tears of sorrow, and the bitter regret of a manly mind over the miserable spectacle of artificiality, wasted powers, misdirected energies, and lost opportunities, be satirical; we do not find satire in that sad story. The reader closes it with a grief beyond tears. It leaves a vague apprehension in the mind, as if we should suspect the air to be poisoned. It suggests the terrible thought of the enfeebling of moral power, and the deterioration of noble character, as a necessary consequence of contact with "society." Every man looks suddenly and sharply around him, and accosts himself and his neighbors, to ascertain if they are all parties to this corruption. Sentimental youths and maidens, upon velvet sofas, or in calf-bound libraries, resolve that it is an insult to human nature—are sure that their velvet and calf-bound friends are not like the dramatis personae of "Vanity Fair," and that the drama is therefore hideous and unreal. They should remember, what they uniformly and universally forget, that we are not invited, upon the rising of the curtain to behold a cosmorama, or picture of the world, but a representation of that part of it called Vanity Fair. What its just limits are-how far its poisonous purlieus reach—how much of the world's air is tainted by it, is a question which every thoughtful man will ask himself, with a shudder, and look sadly around, to answer. If the sentimental objectors rally again to the charge, and declare that, if we wish to improve the world, its virtuous ambition must be piqued and stimulated by making the shining heights of "the ideal" more radiant; we reply, that none shall surpass us in honoring the men whose creations of beauty inspire and instruct mankind. But if they benefit the world, it is no less true that a vivid apprehension of the depths into which we are sunken or may sink, nerves the soul's courage quite as much as the alluring mirage of the happy heights we may attain. "To hold the mirror up to Nature," is still the most potent method of shaming sin and strengthening virtue.
If "Vanity Fair" is a satire, what novel of society is not? Are "Vivian Grey," and "Pelham," and the long catalogue of books illustrating English, or the host of Balzacs, Sands, Sues, and Dumas, that paint French society, any less satires? Nay, if you should catch any dandy in Broadway, or in Pall-Mall, or upon the Boulevards, this very morning, and write a coldly true history of his life and actions, his doings and undoings, would it not be the most scathing and tremendous satire?—if by satire you mean the consuming melancholy of the conviction, that the life of that pendant to a moustache, is an insult to the possible life of a man?
We have read of a hypocrisy so thorough, that it was surprised you should think it hypocritical; and we have bitterly thought of the saying, when hearing one mother say of another mother's child, that she had "made a good match," because the girl was betrothed to a stupid boy whose father was rich. The remark was the key of our social feeling.
Let us look at it a little, and, first of all, let the reader consider the criticism, and not the critic. We may like very well, in our individual capacity, to partake of the delicacies prepared by our hostess's chef, we may not be adverse to pate, and myriad objets de gout, and if you caught us in a corner at the next ball, putting away a fair share of dinde aux truffes, we know you would have at us, in a tone of great moral indignation, and wish to know why we sneaked into great houses, eating good suppers, and drinking choice wines, and then went away with an indigestion, to write dyspeptic disgusts at society.
We might reply that it is necessary to know something of a subject before writing about it, and that if a man wished to describe the habits of South Sea Islanders, it is useless to go to Greenland; we might also confess a partiality for pate, and a tenderness for truffes, and acknowledge that, considering our single absence would not put down extravagant, pompous parties, we were not strong enough to let the morsels drop into unappreciating mouths; or we might say, that if a man invited us to see his new house, it would not be ungracious nor insulting to his hospitality, to point out whatever weak parts we might detect in it, nor to declare our candid conviction, that it was built upon wrong principles and could not stand. He might believe us if we had been in the house, but he certainly would not, if we had never seen it. Nor would it be a very wise reply upon his part, that we might build a better if we didn't like that. We are not fond of David's pictures, but we certainly could never paint half so well; nor of Pope's poetry, but posterity will never hear of our verses. Criticism is not construction, it is observation. If we could surpass in its own way every thing which displeased us, we should make short work of it, and instead of showing what fatal blemishes deform our present society, we should present a specimen of perfection, directly.
We went to the brilliant ball. There was too much of everything. Too much light, and eating, and drinking, and dancing, and flirting, and dressing, and feigning, and smirking, and much too many people. Good taste insists first upon fitness. But why had Mrs. Potiphar given this ball? We inquired industriously, and learned it was because she did not give one last year. Is it then essential to do this thing biennially? inquired we with some trepidation. "Certainly," was the bland reply, "or society will forget you." Everybody was unhappy at Mrs. Potiphar's, save a few girls and boys, who danced violently all the evening. Those who did not dance walked up and down the rooms as well as they could, squeezing by non-dancing ladies, causing them to swear in their hearts as the brusque broadcloth carried away the light outworks of gauze and gossamer. The dowagers, ranged in solid phalanx, occupied all the chairs and sofas against the wall, and fanned themselves until supper-time, looking at each other's diamonds, and criticising the toilettes of the younger ladies, each narrowly watching her peculiar Polly Jane, that she did not betray too much interest in any man who was not of a certain fortune. It is the cold, vulgar truth, madam, nor are we in the slightest degree exaggerating. Elderly gentlemen, twisting single gloves in a very wretched manner, came up and bowed to the dowagers, and smirked, and said it was a pleasant party, and a handsome house, and then clutched their hands behind them, and walked miserably away, looking as affable as possible. And the dowagers made a little fun of the elderly gentlemen, among themselves, as they walked away.
Then came the younger non-dancing men—a class of the community who wear black cravats and waistcoats, and thrust their thumbs and forefingers in their waistcoat pockets, and are called "talking men." Some of them are literary, and affect the philosopher; have, perhaps, written a book or two, and are a small species of lion to very young ladies. Some are of the blase kind; men who affect the extremest elegance, and are reputed "so aristocratic," and who care for nothing in particular, but wish they had not been born gentlemen, in which case they might have escaped ennui. These gentlemen stand with hat in hand, and coats and trowsers most unexceptionable. They are the "so gentlemanly" persons of whom one hears a great deal, but which seems to mean nothing but cleanliness. Vivian Grey and Pelham are the models of their ambition, and they succeed in being Pendennis. They enjoy the reputation of being "very clever," and "very talented fellows," "smart chaps," etc., but they refrain from proving what is so generously conceded. They are often men of a certain cultivation. They have travelled, many of them,—spending a year or two in Paris, and a month or two in the rest of Europe. Consequently they endure society at home, with a smile, and a shrug, and a graceful superciliousness, which is very engaging. They are perfectly at home, and they rather despise Young America, which, in the next room, is diligently earning its invitation. They prefer to hover about the ladies who did not come out this season, but are a little used to the world, with whom they are upon most friendly terms, and who criticise together very freely all the great events in the great world of fashion.
These elegant Pendennises we saw at Mrs. Potiphar's, but not without a sadness which can hardly be explained. They had been boys once, all of them, fresh and frank-hearted, and full of a noble ambition. They had read and pondered the histories of great men; how they resolved, and struggled, and achieved. In the pure portraiture of genius, they had loved and honored noble women, and each young heart was sworn to truth and the service of beauty. Those feelings were chivalric and fair. Those boyish instincts clung to whatever was lovely, and rejected the specious snare, however graceful and elegant. They sailed, new knights, upon that old and endless crusade against hypocrisy and the devil, and they were lost in the luxury of Corinth, nor longer seek the difficult shores beyond. A present smile was worth a future laurel. The ease of the moment was worth immortal tranquillity. They renounced the stern worship of the unknown God, and acknowledged the deities of Athens. But the seal of their shame is their own smile at their early dreams, and the high hopes of their boyhood, their sneering infidelity of simplicity, their skepticism of motives and of men. Youths, whose younger years were fervid with the resolution to strike and win, to deserve, at least, a gentle remembrance, if not a dazzling fame, are content to eat, and drink, and sleep well; to go to the opera and all the balls; to be known as "gentlemanly," and "aristocratic," and "dangerous," and "elegant;" to cherish a luxurious and enervating indolence, and to "succeed," upon the cheap reputation of having been "fast" in Paris. The end of such men is evident enough from the beginning. They are snuffed out by a "great match," and become an appendage to a rich woman; or they dwindle off into old roues, men of the world in sad earnest, and not with elegant affectation, blase; and as they began Arthur Pendennises, so they end the Major. But, believe it, that old fossil heart is wrung sometimes by a mortal pang, as it remembers those squandered opportunities and that lost life.
From these groups we passed into the dancing-room. We have seen dancing in other countries, and dressing. We have certainly never seen gentlemen dance so easily, gracefully and well as the American. But the style of dancing, in its whirl, its rush, its fury, is only equalled by that of the masked balls at the French Opera, and the balls at the Salle Valentino, the Jardin Mabille, the Chateau Rouge, and other favorite resorts of Parisian Grisettes and Lorettes. We saw a few young men looking upon the dance very soberly, and, upon inquiry, learned that they were engaged to certain ladies of the corps-de-ballet. Nor did we wonder that the spectacle of a young woman whirling in a decollete state, and in the embrace of a warm youth, around a heated room, induced a little sobriety upon her lover's face, if not a sadness in his heart. Amusement, recreation, enjoyment! There are no more beautiful things. But this proceeding falls under another head. We watch the various toilettes of these bounding belles. They were rich and tasteful. But a man at our elbow, of experience and shrewd observation, said, with a sneer, for which we called him to account, "I observe that American ladies are so rich in charms that they are not at all chary of them. It is certainly generous to us miserable blackcoats. But, do you know, it strikes me as a generosity of display that must necessarily leave the donor poorer in maidenly feeling." We thought ourselves cynical, but this was intolerable; and in a very crisp manner we demanded an apology.
"Why," responded our friend with more of sadness than of satire in his tone, "why are you so exasperated? Look at this scene! Consider that this is, really, the life of these girls. This is what they 'come out' for. This is the end of their ambition. They think of it, dream of it, long for it. Is it amusement? Yes, to a few, possibly. But listen, and gather, if you can, from their remarks (when they make any) that they have any thought beyond this, and going to church very rigidly on Sunday. The vigor of polking and church-going are proportioned; as is the one so is the other. My young friend, I am no ascetic, and do not suppose a man is damned because he dances. But Life is not a ball (more's the pity, truly, for these butterflies), nor is its sole duty and delight, dancing. When I consider this spectacle,—when I remember what a noble and beautiful woman is, what a manly man,—when I reel, dazzled by this glare, drunken with these perfumes, confused by this alluring music, and reflect upon the enormous sums wasted in a pompous profusion that delights no one,—when I look around upon all this rampant vulgarity in tinsel and Brussels lace, and think how fortunes go, how men struggle and lose the bloom of their honesty, how women hide in a smiling pretence, and eye with caustic glances their neighbor's newer house, diamonds, or porcelain, and observe their daughters, such as these,—why, I tremble and tremble, and this scene to-night, every 'crack' ball this winter will be, not the pleasant society of men and women, but—even in this young country—an orgie such as rotting Corinth saw, a frenzied festival of Rome in its decadence."
There was a sober truth in this bitterness, and we turned away to escape the sombre thought of the moment. Addressing one of the panting Houris who stood melting in a window, we spoke (and confess how absurdly) of the Duesseldorf Gallery. It was merely to avoid saying how warm the room was, and how pleasant the party was; facts upon which we had already sufficiently enlarged. "Yes, they are pretty pictures; but la! how long it must have taken Mr. Duesseldorf to paint them all;" was the reply.
By the Farnesian Hercules! no Roman sylph in her city's decline would ever have called the sun-god, Mr. Apollo. We hope that Houri melted entirely away in the window, but we certainly did not stay to see.
Passing out toward the supper-room we encountered two young men. "What, Hal," said one, "you at Mrs. Potiphar's?" It seems that Hal was a sprig of one of the old "families." "Well, Joe," said Hal, a little confused, "it is a little strange. The fact is I didn't mean to be here, but I concluded to compromise by coming, and not being introduced to the host." Hal could come, eat Potiphar's supper, drink his wines, spoil his carpets, laugh at his fashionable struggles, and affect the puppyism of a foreign Lord, because he disgraced the name of a man who had done some service somewhere, while Potiphar was only an honest man who made a fortune.
The supper-room was a pleasant place. The table was covered with a chaos of supper. Everything sweet and rare, and hot and cold, solid and liquid, was there. It was the very apotheosis of gilt gingerbread. There was a universal rush and struggle. The charge of the guards at Waterloo was nothing to it. Jellies, custards, oyster-soup, ice-cream, wine and water, gushed in profuse cascades over transparent precipices of tulle, muslin, gauze, silk, arid satin. Clumsy boys tumbled against costly dresses and smeared them with preserves,—when clean plates failed, the contents of plates already used were quietly "chucked" under the table—heeltaps of champagne were poured into the oyster tureens or overflowed upon plates to clear the glasses—wine of all kinds flowed in torrents, particularly down the throats of very young men, who evinced their manhood by becoming noisy, troublesome, and disgusting, and were finally either led, sick, into the hat room, or carried out of the way, drunk. The supper over, the young people attended by their matrons descended to the dancing-room for the "German." This is a dance commencing usually at midnight or a little after, and continuing indefinitely toward daybreak. The young people were attended by their matrons, who were there to supervise the morals and manners of their charges. To secure the performance of this duty, the young people took good care to sit where the matrons could not see them, nor did they, by any chance, look toward the quarter in which the matrons sat. In that quarter through all the varying mazes of the prolonged dance, to two o'clock, to three, to four, sat the bediamonded dowagers, the mothers, the matrons,—against nature, against common sense. They babbled with each other, they drowsed, they dozed. Their fans fell listless into their laps. In the adjoining room, out of the waking sight, even, of the then sleeping mammas, the daughters whirled in the close embrace of partners who had brought down bottles of champagne from the supper-room, and put them by the side of their chairs for occasional refreshment during the dance. The dizzy hours staggered by—"Azalia, you must come now," had been already said a dozen times, but only as by the scribes. Finally it was declared with authority. Azalia went,—Amelia—Arabella. The rest followed. There was a prolonged cloaking, there were lingering farewells. A few papas were in the supper-room, sitting among the debris of game. A few young non-dancing husbands sat beneath gas unnaturally bright, reading whatever chance book was at hand, and thinking of the young child at home waiting for mamma who was dancing the "German" below. A few exhausted matrons sat in the robing-room, tired, sad, wishing Jane would come up; assailed at intervals by a vague suspicion that it was not quite worth while; wondering how it was they used to have such good times at balls; yawning and looking at their watches; while the regular beat of the music below, with sardonic sadness, continued. At last Jane came up, had had the most glorious time, and went down with mamma to the carriage, and so drove home. Even the last Jane went—the last noisy youth was expelled, and Mr. and Mrs. Potiphar having duly performed their biennial social duty, dismissed the music, ordered the servants to count the spoons, and an hour or two after daylight went to bed. Enviable Mr. and Mrs. Potiphar!
We are now prepared for the great moral indignation of the friend who saw us eating our dinde aux truffes in that remarkable supper-room. We are waiting to hear him say in the most moderate and "gentlemanly" manner, that it is all very well to select flaws and present them as specimens, and to learn from him, possibly with indignant publicity, that the present condition of parties is not what we have intimated. Or, in his quiet and pointed way, he may smile at our fiery assault upon edged flounces and nuga pyramids, and the kingdom of Lilliput in general.
Yet, after all, and despite the youths who are led out, and carried home, or who stumble through the "German," this is a sober matter. My friend told us we should see the "best society." But he is a prodigious wag. Who make this country? From whom is its character of unparalleled enterprise, heroism and success derived? Who have given it its place in the respect and the fear of the world? Who, annually, recruit its energies, confirm its progress, and secure its triumph? Who are its characteristic children, the pith, the sinew, the bone, of its prosperity? Who found, and direct, and continue its manifold institutions of mercy and education? Who are, essentially, Americans? Indignant friend, these classes, whoever they may be, are the "best society," because they alone are the representatives of its character and cultivation. They are the "best society" of New York, of Boston, of Baltimore, of St. Louis, of New Orleans, whether they live upon six hundred or sixty thousand dollars a year—whether they inhabit princely houses in fashionable streets (which they often do), or not—whether their sons have graduated at Celarius' and the Jardin Mabille, or have never been out of their fathers' shops—whether they have "air" and "style," and are "so gentlemanly" and "so aristocratic," or not. Your shoemaker, your lawyer, your butcher, your clergyman—if they are simple and steady, and, whether rich or poor, are unseduced by the sirens of extravagance and ruinous display, help make up the "best society." For that mystic communion is not composed of the rich, but of the worthy; and is "best" by its virtues, and not by its vices. When Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith, Garrick, Reynolds, and their friends, met at supper in Goldsmith's rooms, where was the "best society" in England? When George the Fourth outraged humanity and decency in his treatment of Queen Caroline, who was the first scoundrel in Europe?
Pause yet a moment, indignant friend. Whose habits and principles would ruin this country as rapidly as it has been made? Who are enamored of a puerile imitation of foreign splendors? Who strenuously endeavor to graft the questionable points of Parisian society upon our own? Who pass a few years in Europe, and return skeptical of republicanism and human improvement, longing and sighing for more sharply emphasised social distinctions? Who squander with profuse recklessness the hard-earned fortunes of their sires? Who diligently devote their time to nothing, foolishly and wrongly supposing that a young English nobleman has nothing to do? Who, in fine, evince by their collective conduct, that they regard their Americanism as a misfortune, and are so the most deadly enemies of their country? None but what our wag facetiously termed "the best society."
If the reader doubts, let him consider its practical results in any great emporium of "best society." Marriage is there regarded as a luxury, too expensive for any but the sons of rich men, or fortunate young men. We once heard an eminent divine assert, and only half in sport, that the rate of living was advancing so incredibly, that weddings in his experience were perceptibly diminishing. The reasons might have been many and various. But we all acknowledge the fact. On the other hand, and about the same time, a lovely damsel (ah! Clorinda,) whose father was not wealthy, who had no prospective means of support, who could do nothing but polka to perfection, who literally knew almost nothing, and who constantly shocked every fairly intelligent person by the glaring ignorance betrayed in her remarks, informed a friend at one of the Saratoga balls, whither he had made haste to meet "the best society," that there were "not more than three good matches in society!" La Dame aux Camelias, Marie Duplessis, was, to our fancy, a much more feminine, and admirable, and moral, and human person, than the adored Clorinda. And yet what she said was the legitimate result of the state of our fashionable society. It worships wealth, and the pomp which wealth can purchase, more than virtue, genius, or beauty. We may be told that it has always been so in every country, and that the fine society of all lands is as profuse and flashy as our own. We deny it, flatly. Neither English, nor French, nor Italian, nor German society, is so unspeakably barren as that which is technically called "society" here. In London, and Paris, and Vienna, and Rome, all the really eminent men and women help make up the mass of society. A party is not a mere ball, but it is a congress of the wit, beauty, and fame of the capital. It is worth while to dress, if you shall meet Macaulay, or Hallam, or Guizot, or Thiers, or Landseer, or Delaroche,—Mrs. Norton, the Misses Berry, Madame Recamier, and all the brilliant women and famous foreigners. But why should we desert the pleasant pages of those men, and the recorded gossip of those women, to be squeezed flat against a wall, while young Doughface pours oyster gravy down our shirt front, and Carolina Pettitoes wonders at "Mr. Duesseldorf's" industry?
If intelligent people decline to go, you justly remark, it is their own fault. Yes, but if they stay away it is very certainly their great gain. The elderly people are always neglected with us, and nothing surprises intelligent strangers more, than the tyrannical supremacy of Young America. But we are not surprised at this neglect. How can we be if we have our eyes open? When Caroline Pettitoes retreats from the floor to the sofa, and instead of a "polker" figures at parties as a matron, do you suppose that "tough old Joes" like ourselves are going to desert the young Caroline upon the floor, for Madame Pettitoes upon the sofa? If the pretty young Caroline, with youth, health, freshness, a fine, budding form, and wreathed in a semi-transparent haze of flounced and flowered gauze, is so vapid that we prefer to accost her with our eyes alone, and not with our tongues, is the same Caroline married into a Madame Pettitoes, and fanning herself upon a sofa,—no longer particularly fresh, nor young, nor pretty, and no longer budding but very fully blown,—likely to be fascinating in conversation? We cannot wonder that the whole connection of Pettitoes, when advanced to the matron state, is entirely neglected. Proper homage to age we can all pay at home, to our parents and grandparents. Proper respect for some persons is best preserved by avoiding their neighborhood.
And what, think you, is the influence of this extravagant expense and senseless show upon these same young men and women? We can easily discover. It saps their noble ambition, assails their health, lowers their estimate of men and their reverence for women, cherishes an eager and aimless rivalry, weakens true feeling, wipes away the bloom of true modesty, and induces an ennui, a satiety, and a kind of dilettante misanthropy, which is only the more monstrous because it is undoubtedly real. You shall hear young men of intelligence and cultivation, to whom the unprecedented circumstances of this country offer opportunities of a great and beneficent career, complaining that they were born within this blighted circle—regretting that they were not bakers and tallow-chandlers, and under no obligation to keep up appearances—deliberately surrendering all the golden possibilities of that Future which this country, beyond all others, holds before them—sighing that they are not rich enough to marry the girls they love, and bitterly upbraiding fortune that they are not millionnaires—suffering the vigor of their years to exhale in idle wishes and pointless regrets—disgracing their manhood by lying in wait behind their "so gentlemanly" and "aristocratic" manners, until they can pounce upon a "fortune" and ensnare an heiress into matrimony: and so having dragged their gifts, their horses of the sun, into a service which shames out of them all their native pride and power, they sink in the mire, and their peers and emulators exclaim that they have "made a good thing of it."
Are these the processes by which a noble race is made and perpetuated? At Mrs. Potiphar's we heard several Pendennises longing for a similar luxury, and announcing their firm purpose, never to have wives, nor houses, until they could have them as splendid as jewelled Mrs. Potiphar, and her palace, thirty feet front. Where were their heads and their hearts, and their arms? How looks this craven despondency, before the stern virtues of the ages we call dark? When a man is so voluntarily imbecile as to regret he is not rich, if that is what he wants, before he has struck a blow for wealth; or so dastardly as to renounce the prospect of love, because sitting sighing, in velvet dressing-gown and slippers, he does not see his way clear to ten thousand a year; when young women coiffed a merveille, of unexceptionable "style," who, with or without a prospective penny, secretly look down upon honest women who struggle for their livelihood, like noble and Christian beings, and, as such, are rewarded; in whose society a man must forget that he has ever read, thought or felt; who destroy in the mind, the fair ideal of woman, which the genius of art and poetry, and love, their inspirer, has created; then it seems to us, it is high time that the subject should be regarded not as a matter of breaking butterflies upon the wheel, but as a sad and sober question, in whose solution, all fathers and mothers, and the state itself, are interested. When keen observers, and men of the world, from Europe, are amazed and appalled at the giddy whirl and frenzied rush of our society—a society singular in history, for the exaggerated prominence it assigns to wealth, irrespective of the talents that amassed it, they and their possessor being usually hustled out of sight—is it not quite time to ponder a little upon the Court of Louis XIV., and the "merrie days" of King Charles II.? Is it not clear that, if what our good wag, with caustic irony, called "best society," were really such, every thoughtful man would read upon Mrs. Potiphar's softly-tinted walls, the terrible "mene, mene" of imminent destruction?
Venice in her purple prime of luxury, when the famous law was passed, making all gondolas black, that the nobles should not squander fortunes upon them, was not more luxurious than New York today. Our hotels have a superficial splendor, derived from a profusion of gilt and paint, wood and damask. Yet, in not one of them can the traveller be so quietly comfortable as in an English Inn, and nowhere in New York can the stranger procure a dinner, at once so neat and elegant, and economical, as at scores of Cafes in Paris. The fever of display has consumed comfort. A gondola plated with gold was no easier than a black wooden one. We could well spare a little gilt upon the walls, for more cleanliness upon the public table; nor is it worth while to cover the walls with mirrors to reflect a want of comfort, One prefers a wooden bench to a greasy velvet cushion, and a sanded floor to a soiled and threadbare carpet. An insipid uniformity is the Procrustes-bed, upon which "society" is stretched. Every new house is the counterpart of every other, with the exception of more gilt, if the owner can afford it. The interior arrangement, instead of being characteristic, instead of revealing something of the tastes and feelings of the owner, is rigorously conformed to every other interior. The same hollow and tame complaisance rules in the intercourse of society. Who dares say precisely what he thinks upon a great topic? What youth ventures to say sharp things, of slavery, for instance, at a polite dinner-table? What girl dares wear curls, when Martelle prescribes puffs or bandeaux? What specimen of young America dares have his trowsers loose or wear straps to them? We want individuality, heroism, and, if necessary, an uncompromising persistence in difference.
This is the present state of parties. They are wildly extravagant, full of senseless display; they are avoided by the pleasant and intelligent, and swarm with reckless regiments of "Brown's men." The ends of the earth contribute their choicest products to the supper, and there is everything that wealth can purchase, and all the spacious splendor that thirty feet front can afford. They are hot, and crowded, and glaring. There is a little weak scandal, venomous, not witty, and a stream of weary platitude, mortifying to every sensible person. Will any of our Pendennis friends intermit their indignation for a moment, and consider how many good things they have said or heard during the season? If Mr. Potiphar's eyes should chance to fall here, will he reckon the amount of satisfaction and enjoyment he derived from Mrs. Potiphar's ball, and will that lady candidly confess what she gained from it besides weariness and disgust? What eloquent sermons we remember to have heard in which the sins and the sinners of Babylon, Jericho and Gomorrah were scathed with holy indignation. The cloth is very hard upon Cain, and completely routs the erring kings of Judah. The Spanish Inquisition, too, gets frightful knocks, and there is much eloquent exhortation to preach the gospel in the interior of Siam. Let it be preached there, and God speed the word. But also let us have a text or two in Broadway and the Avenue.
The best sermon ever preached upon society, within our knowledge, is "Vanity Fair." Is the spirit of that story less true of New York than of London? Probably we never see Amelia at our parties, nor Lieutenant George Osborne, nor good gawky Dobbin, nor Mrs. Rebecca Sharp Crawley, nor old Steyne. We are very much pained, of course, that any author should take such dreary views of human nature. We, for our parts, all go to Mrs. Potiphar's to refresh our faith in men and women. Generosity, amiability, a catholic charity, simplicity, taste, sense, high cultivation, and intelligence, distinguish our parties. The statesman seeks their stimulating influence; the literary man, after the day's labour, desires the repose of their elegant conversation; the professional man and the merchant hurry up from down town to shuffle off the coil of heavy duty, and forget the drudgery of life in the agreeable picture of its amenities and graces presented by Mrs. Potiphar's ball. Is this account of the matter, or "Vanity Fair," the satire? What are the prospects of any society of which that tale is the true history? There is a picture in the Luxembourg gallery at Paris, "The Decadence of the Romans," which made the fame and fortune of Couture, the painter. It represents an orgie in the court of a temple, during the last days of Rome. A swarm of revellers occupy the middle of the picture, wreathed in elaborate intricacy of luxurious posture, men and women intermingled; their faces, in which the old Roman fire scarcely flickers, brutalized with excess of every kind; their heads of dishevelled hair bound with coronals of leaves, while, from goblets of an antique grace, they drain the fiery torrent which is destroying them. Around the bacchanalian feast stand, lofty upon pedestals, the statues of old Rome, looking with marble calmness and the severity of a rebuke beyond words upon the revellers. A youth of boyish grace, with a wreath woven in his tangled hair, and with red and drowsy eyes, sits listless upon one pedestal, while upon another stands a boy, insane with drunkenness, and proffering a dripping goblet to the marble mouth of the statue. In the corner of the picture, as if just quitting the court—Rome finally departing—is a group of Romans with care-worn brows, and hands raised to their faces in melancholy meditation. In the foreground of the picture, which is painted with all the sumptuous splendor of Venetian art, is a stately vase, around which hangs a festoon of gorgeous flowers, its end dragging upon the pavement. In the background, between the columns, smiles the blue sky of Italy—the only thing Italian not deteriorated by time. The careful student of this picture, if he has been long in Paris, is some day startled by detecting, especially in the faces of the women represented, a surprising likeness to the women of Paris, and perceives, with a thrill of dismay, that the models for this picture of decadent human nature are furnished by the very city in which he lives.
OUR NEW LIVERY, AND OTHER THINGS.
A LETTER FROM MRS. POTIPHAR TO MISS CAROLINE PETTITOES.
NEW YORK, April.
MY DEAR CAROLINE,—Lent came so frightfully early this year, that I was very much afraid my new bonnet a l'Imperatrice would not be out from Paris soon enough. But fortunately it arrived just in time, and I had the satisfaction of taking down the pride of Mrs. Croesus, who fancied hers would be the only stylish hat in church the first Sunday. She could not keep her eyes away from me, and I sat so unmoved, and so calmly looking at the Doctor, that she was quite vexed. But, whenever she turned away, I ran my eyes over the whole congregation, and would you believe that, almost without an exception, people had their old things? However, I suppose they forgot how soon Lent was coming. As I was passing out of church, Mrs. Croesus brushed by me:
"Ah!" said she, "good morning. Why bless me! you've got that pretty hat I saw at Lawson's. Well, now, it's really quite pretty; Lawson has some taste left yet; what a lovely sermon the Doctor gave us. By the by, did you know that Mrs. Gnu had actually bought the blue velvet? It's too bad, because I wanted to cover my prayer-book with blue, and she sits so near, the effect of my book will be quite spoiled. Dear me! there she is beckoning to me; good-bye, do come and see us; Tuesdays, you know. Well, Lawson really does very well."
I was so mad with the old thing, that I could not help catching her by her mantle and holding on while I whispered loud enough for everybody to hear:
"Mrs. Croesus, you see I have just got my bonnet from Paris. It's made after the Empress's. If you would like to have yours made over in the fashion, dear Mrs. Croesus, I shall be so glad to lend you mine."
"No, thank you, dear," said she, "Lawson won't do for me. Bye-bye."
And so she slipped out, and, I've no doubt, told Mrs. Gnu that she had seen my bonnet at Lawson's. Isn't it too bad? Then she is so abominably cool. Somehow, when I am talking with Mrs. Croesus, who has all her own things made at home, I don't feel as if mine came from Paris at all. She has such a way of looking at you, that it's quite dreadful. She seems to be saying in her mind, "La! now, well done, little dear." And I think that kind of mental reservation (I think that's what they call it) is an insupportable impertinence. However, I don't care, do you?
I've so many things to tell you that I hardly know where to begin. The great thing is the livery, but I want to come regularly up to that, and forget nothing by the way. I was uncertain for a long time how to have my prayer-book bound. Finally, after thinking about it a great deal, I concluded to have it done in pale blue velvet, with gold clasps, and a gold cross upon the side. To be sure, it's nothing very new. But what is new now-a-days? Sally Shrimp has had hers done in emerald, and I know Mrs. Croesus will have crimson for hers, and those people who sits next us in church (I wonder who they are; it's very unpleasant to sit next to people you don't know; and, positively, that girl, the dark-haired one with large eyes, carries the same muff she did last year; it's big enough for a family) have a kind of brown morocco binding. I must tell you one reason why I fixed upon the pale-blue. You know that aristocratic-looking young man, in white cravat and black pantaloons and waistcoat, whom we saw at Saratoga a year ago, and who always had such a beautiful sanctimonious look, and such small white hands; well, he is a minister, as we supposed, "an unworthy candidate, and unprofitable husbandman," as he calls himself in that delicious voice of his. He has been quite taken up among us. He has been asked a good deal to dinner, and there was hope of his being settled as colleague to the Doctor, only Mr. Potiphar (who can be stubborn, you know) insisted that the Rev. Cream Cheese, though a very good young man, he didn't doubt, was addicted to candlesticks. I suppose that's something awful. But, could you believe anything awful of him? I asked Mr. Potiphar what he meant by saying such things.
"I mean," said he, "that he's a Puseyite, and I've no idea of being tied to the apron-strings of the Scarlet Woman."
Dear Caroline, who is the Scarlet Woman? Dearest, tell me, upon your honor, if you have ever heard any scandal of Mr. Potiphar?
"What is it about candlesticks?" said I to Mr. Potiphar. "Perhaps Mr. Cheese finds gas too bright for his eyes; and that's his misfortune, not his fault.
"Polly," said Mr. Potiphar, who will call me Polly, although it sounds so very vulgar, "please not to meddle with things you don't understand. You may have Cream Cheese to dinner as much as you choose, but I will not have him in the pulpit of my church."
The same day Mr. Cheese happened in about lunch-time, and I asked him if his eyes were really weak.
"Not at all," said he, "why do you ask?"
Then I told him that I had heard he was so fond of candlesticks.
Ah! Caroline, you should have seen him then. He stopped in the midst of pouring out a glass of Mr. P.'s best old port, and holding the decanter in one hand, and the glass in the other, he looked so beautifully sad, and said in that sweet low voice:
"Dear Mrs. Potiphar, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Then he filled up his glass, and drank the wine off with such a mournful, resigned air, and wiped his lips so gently with his cambric handkerchief (I saw that it was a hem-stitch), that I had no voice to ask him to take a bit of the cold chicken, which he did, however, without my asking him. But when he said in the same low voice, "A little more breast, dear Mrs. Potiphar," I was obliged to run into the drawing room for a moment, to recover myself.
Well, after he had lunched I told him that I wished to take his advice upon something connected with the church, (for a prayer-book is, you know, dear,) and he looked so sweetly at me, that, would you believe it, I almost wished to be a Catholic, and to confess three or four times a week, and to have him for my confessor. But it's very wicked to wish to be a Catholic, and it wasn't real much, you know; but somehow I thought so. When I asked him in what velvet he would advise me to have my prayer-book bound, he talked beautifully for about twenty minutes. I wish you could have heard him. I'm not sure that I understood much of what he said—how should I?—but it was very beautiful. Don't laugh, Carrie, but there was one thing I did understand, and which, as it came pretty often, quite helped me through: it was, "Dear Mrs. Potiphar;" you can't tell how nicely he says it. He began by telling me that it was very important to consider all the details and little things about the church. He said they were all Timbales or Cymbals—or something of that kind; and then he talked very prettily about the stole, and the violet and scarlet capes of the cardinals, and purple chasubles, and the lace edge of the Pope's little short gown; and—do you know it was very funny—but it seemed to me, somehow, as if I was talking with Portier or Florine Lefevre, except that he used such beautiful words. Well, by and by, he said:—
"Therefore, dear Mrs. Potiphar, as your faith is so pure and childlike, and as I observe that the light from the yellow panes usually falls across your pew, I would advise that you cymbalize your faith (wouldn't that be noisy in church?) by binding your prayer-book in pale blue; the color of skim-milk, dear Mrs. Potiphar, which is so full of pastoral associations."
Why did he emphasize the word "pastoral?" Do you wonder that I like Cream Cheese, dear Caroline, when he is so gentle and religious—and such a pretty religion too! For he is not only well-dressed, and has such aristocratic hands and feet, in the parlor, but he is so perfectly gentlemanly in the pulpit. He never raises his voice too loud, and he has such wavy gestures. Mr. Potiphar says that may be all very true, but he knows perfectly well that he has a hankering for artificial flowers, and that, for his part, he prefers the Doctor to any preacher he ever heard "because," he says, "I can go quietly to sleep, confident that he will say nothing that might not be preached from every well-regulated pulpit; whereas, if we should let Cream Cheese into the desk, I should have to keep awake to be on the look-out for some of these new-fangled idolatries: and, Polly Potiphar, I, for one, am determined to have nothing to do with the Scarlet Woman."
Darling Caroline—I don't care much—but did he ever have anything to do with a Scarlet Woman?
After he said that about artificial flowers, I ordered from Martelle the sweetest sprig of immortelle he had in his shop, and sent it anonymously on St. Valentine's day. Of course I didn't wish to do anything secret from my husband, that might make people talk, so I wrote—"Rev. Cream Cheese; from his grateful Skim-milk." I marked the last words, and hope he understood that I meant to express my thanks for his advice about the pale-blue cover. You don't think it was too romantice, do you, dear?
You can imagine how pleasantly Lent is passing since I see so much of him: and then it is so appropriate to Lent to be intimate with a minister. He goes with me to church a great deal; for Mr. Potiphar, of course, has no time for that, except on Sundays; and it is really delightful to see such piety. He makes the responses in the most musical manner; and when he kneels upon entering the pew, he is the admiration of the whole church. He buries his face entirely in a cloud of cambric pocket-handkerchief, with his initial embroidered at the corner; and his hair is beautifully parted down behind, which is very fortunate, as otherwise it would look so badly, when only half his head showed. I feel so good when I sit by his side; and when the Doctor (as Mr. P. says) "blows up" those terrible sinners in Babylon and the other Bible towns, I always find the Rev. Cream's eyes fixed upon me, with so much sweet sadness, that I am very, very sorry for the naughty people the Doctor talks about. Why did they do so, do you suppose, dear Caroline? How thankful we ought to be that we live now with so many churches, and such fine ones, and with such gentlemanly ministers as Mr. Cheese. And how nicely it's arranged that, after dancing and dining for two or three months constantly, during which, of course, we can only go to church Sundays, there comes a time for stopping, when we're tired out, and for going to church every day, and (as Mr. P. says) "striking a balance;" and thinking about being good, and all those things. We don't lose a great deal, you know. It makes a variety, and we all see each other, just the same, only we don't dance. I do think it would be better if we took our lorgnettes with us, however, for it was only last Wednesday, at nine o'clock prayers, that I saw Sheena Silke across the church in their little pew at the corner, and I am sure that she had a new bonnet on; and yet, though I looked at it all the time trying to find out, prayers were fairly over before I discovered whether it was really new, or only that old white one made over with a few new flowers. Now, if I had had my glass, I could have told in a moment, and shouldn't have been obliged to lose all the prayers.
But, as I was saying, those poor old people in Babylon and Nineveh! only think, if they had had the privileges of prayers for six or seven weeks in Lent, and regular preaching the rest of the year, except, of course, in the summer—(by the by, I wonder if they all had some kind of Saratoga or Newport to go to?—I mean to ask Mr. Cheese)—they might have been good, and all have been happy. It's quite awful to hear how eloquent and earnest the Doctor is when he preaches against Babylon. Mr. P. says he likes to have him "pitch into those old sinners; it does 'em so much good;" and then he looks quite fierce. Mr. Cheese is going to read me a sermon he has written upon the maidenhood of Lot's wife. He says that he quotes a great deal of poetry in it, and that I must dam up the fount of my tears when he reads it. It was an odd expression for a minister, wasn't it? and I was obliged to say, "Mr. Cheese, you forget yourself." He replied, "Dear Mrs. Potiphar, I will explain;" and he did so; so that I admired him more than ever.
Dearest Caroline,—if you should only like him! He asked one day about you; and when I told him what a dear, good girl you are, he said: "And her father has worldly possessions, has he not?"
I answered, yes; that your father was very rich. Then he sighed, and said that he could never marry an heiress unless he clearly saw it to be his duty. Isn't it a beautiful resignation?
I had no idea of saying so much about him, but you know it's proper, when writing a letter in Lent, to talk about religious matters. And, I must confess, there is something comfortable in having to do with such things. Don't you feel better, when you've been dancing all the week, and dining, and going to the opera, and flirting and flying around, to go to church on Sundays? I do. It seems, somehow, as if we ought to go. But I do wish Mrs. Croesus would sit somewhere else than just in front of us, for her new bonnets and her splendid collars and capes makes me quite miserable: and then she puts me out of conceit of my things by talking about Lawson, or somebody, as I told you in the beginning.
Mr. Potiphar has sent out for the new carpets. I had only two spoiled at my ball, you know, and that was very little. One always expects to sacrifice at least two carpets upon occasion of seeing one's friends. That handsome one in the supper room was entirely ruined. Would you believe that Mr. P. when he went downstairs the next morning, found our Fred and his cousin hoeing it with their little toes? It was entirely matted with preserves and things, and the boys said that they were scraping it clean for breakfast. The other spoiled carpet was in the gentlemen's dressing-room where the punch-bowl was. Young Gauche Boosey, a very gentlemanly fellow, you know, ran up after polking, and was so confused with the light and heat that he went quite unsteadily, and as he was trying to fill a glass with the silver ladle (which is rather heavy), he somehow leaned too hard upon the table, and down went the whole thing, table, bowl, punch, and Boosey, and ended my poor carpet. I was sorry for that, and also for the bowl, which was a very handsome one, imported from China by my father's partner—a wedding gift to me—and for the table, a delicate rosewood stand, which was a work table of my sister Lucy's—whom you never knew, and who died long and long ago. However, I was amply repaid by Boosey's drollery afterward. He is a very witty young man, and when he got up from the floor, saturated with punch (his clothes I mean), he looked down at the carpet and said:
"Well, I've given that such a punch it will want some lemon-aid to recover."
I suppose he had some idea about lemon acid taking out spots.
But, the best thing was what he said to me. He is so droll that he insisted upon coming down, and finishing the dance just as he was. The funny fellow brushed against all the dresses in his way, and, finally said to me, as he pointed to a lemon-seed upon his coat:
"I feel so very lemon-choly for what I have done."
I laughed very much (you were in the other room), but Mr. P. stepped up and ordered him to leave the house. Boosey said he would do no such thing; and I have no doubt we should have had a scene, if Mr. P. had not marched him straight to the door, and put him into a carriage, and told the driver where to take him. Mr. P. was red enough when he came back.
"No man shall insult me or my guests, by getting drunk in my house," said he; and he has since asked me not to invite Boosey nor "any of his kind," as he calls them, to our house. However, I think it will pass over. I tell him that all young men of spirit get a little excited with wine sometimes, and he mustn't be too hard upon them.
"Madame," said he to me, the first time I ventured to say that, "no man with genuine self-respect ever gets drunk twice; and, if you had the faintest idea of the misery which a little elegant intoxication has produced in scores of families that you know, you would never insinuate again that a little excitement from wine is an agreeable thing. There's your friend Mrs. Croesus (he thinks she's my friend, because we call each other 'dear'!); she is delighted to be a fashionable woman, and to be described as the 'peerless and accomplished Mrs. Croesus' in letters from the Watering-places to the Herald; but I tell you, if anything of the woman or the mother is left in the fashionable Mrs. Croesus, I could wring her heart as it never was wrung—and never shall be by me—by showing her the places that young Timon Croesus haunts, the people with whom he associates and the drunkenness, gambling, and worse dissipations of which he is guilty.
"Timon Croesus is eighteen or nineteen, or, perhaps, twenty years old; and Polly, I tell you, he is actually blase, worn out with dissipation, the companion of blacklegs, the chevalier of Cyprians, tipsy every night, and haggard every morning. Timon Croesus is the puny caricature of a man, mentally, morally, and physically. He gets 'elegantly intoxicated' at your parties; he goes off to sup with Gauche Boosey; you and Mrs. Croesus think them young men of spirit,—it is an exhilarating case of sowing wildcats, you fancy,—and, when, at twenty-five, Timon Croesus stands ruined in the world, without aims or capacities, without the esteem of a single man or his own self-respect—youth, health, hope, and energy, all gone forever—then you and your dear Mrs. Croesus will probably wonder at the horrible harvest. Mrs. Potiphar, ask the Rev. Cream Cheese to omit his sermon upon the maidenhood of Lot's wife, and preach from this text: 'They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.' Good heavens! Polly, fancy our Fred growing up to such a life! I'd rather bury him to-morrow!"
I never saw Mr. P. so much excited. He fairly put his handkerchief to his eyes, and I really believe he cried! But I think he exaggerates these things: and as he had a very dear friend that went worse and worse, until he died frightfully, a drunkard, it is not strange he should speak so warmly about it. But as Mrs. Croesus says:
"What can you do? You can't curb these boys, you don't want to break their spirits, you don't want to make them milk-sops."
When I repeated this speech to Mr. P., he said to me with a kind of solemnity:
"Tell Mrs. Croesus that I am not here to judge nor dictate: but she may be well assured, that every parent is responsible for every child of his to the utmost of the influence he can exert, whether he chooses to consider himself so or not; and if not now, in this world, yet somewhere and somehow, he must hear and heed the voice that called to Cain in the garden, 'Where is Abel, thy brother?'"
I can't bear to hear Mr.P. talk in that way; it sounds so like preaching. Not precisely like what I hear at church but like what we mean when we say "preaching," without referring to any particular sermon. However, he grants that young Timon is an extreme case: but, he says, it is the result that proves the principle, and a state of feeling which not only allows, but indirectly fosters, that result, is frightful to think of.
"Don't think of it then, Mr. P.," said I. He looked at me for a moment with the sternest scowl I ever saw upon a man's face, then he suddenly ran up to me, and kissed me on the forehead (although my hair was all dressed for Mrs. Gnu's dinner), and went out of the house. He hasn't said much to me since, but he speaks very gently when he does speak, and sometimes I catch him looking at me in such a singular way, so half mournful, that Mr. Cheese's eyes don't seem so very sad after all.
However, to return to the party, I believe nothing else was injured except the curtains in the front drawing-room, which were so smeared with ice-cream and oyster gravy, that we must get new ones; and the cover of my porcelain tureen was broken by the servant, though the man said he didn't really mean to do it, and I could say nothing; and a party of young men, after the German Cotillion, did let fall that superb cut-glass Claret, and shivered it, with a dozen of the delicately engraved straw-stems that stood upon the waiter. That was all, I believe—oh! except that fine "Dresden Gallery," the most splendid book I ever saw, full of engravings of the great pictures in Dresden, Vienna, and the other Italian towns, and which was sent to Mr. P. by an old friend, an artist, whom he had helped along when he was very poor. Somebody unfortunately tipped over a bottle of claret that stood upon the table, (I am sure I don't know how it got there, though Mr. P. says Gauche Boosey knows,) and it lay soaking into the book, so that almost every picture has a claret stain, which looks so funny. I am very sorry, I am sure, but as I tell Mr. P., it's no use crying for spilt milk. I was telling Mr. Boosey of it at the Gnus' dinner. He laughed very much, and when I said that a good many of the faces were sadly stained, he said in his droll way, "You ought to call it L'Opera di Bordeaux; Le Domino rouge." I supposed it was something funny, so I laughed a good deal. He said to me later: "Shall I pour a little claret into your book—I mean into your glass?"
Wasn't it a pretty bon-mot?
Don't you think we are getting very spirituel in this country?
I believe there was nothing else injured except the bed-hangings in the back room, which were somehow badly burnt and very much torn in pulling down, and a few of our handsomest shades that were cracked by the heat, and a few plates, which it was hardly fair to expect wouldn't be broken, and the colored glass door in my escritoire, against which Flattie Podge fell as she was dancing with Gauche Boosey; but he may have been a little excited, you know, and she, poor girl, couldn't help tumbling, and as her head hit the glass, of course, it broke, and cut her head badly, so that the blood ran down and naturally spoiled her dress; and what little escritoire could stand against Flattie Podge? So that went, and was a good deal smashed in falling. That's all, I think, except that the next day Mrs. Croesus sent a note, saying that she had lost her largest diamond from her necklace, and she was sure that it was not in the carriage, nor in her own house, nor upon the sidewalk, for she had carefully looked everywhere, and she would be very glad if I would return it by the bearer.
Think of that.
Well, we hunted everywhere, and found no diamond. I took particular pains to ask the servants if they had found it, for if they had, they might as well give it up at once, without expecting any reward from Mrs. Croesus, who wasn't very generous. But they all said they hadn't found any diamond: and our man John, who you know is so guileless,—although it was a little mysterious about that emerald pin of mine,—brought me a bit of glass that had been nicked out of my large custard dish, and asked me if that was not Mrs. Croesus's diamond. I told him no, and gave him a gold dollar for his honesty. John is an invaluable servant; he is so guileless.
Do you know I am not so sure about Mrs. Croesus's diamond!
Mr. P. made a great howling about the ball. But it was very foolish, for he got safely to bed by six o'clock, and he need have no trouble about replacing the curtains, and glass, etc. I shall do all that, and the sum total will be sent to him in a lump, so that he can pay it.
Men are so unreasonable. Fancy us at seven o'clock that morning, when I retired. He wasn't asleep. But whose fault was that?
"Polly," said he, "that's the last."
"Last what?" said I.
"Last ball at my house," said he.
"Fiddle-dee-dee," said I.
"I tell you, Mrs. Potiphar, I am not going to open my house for a crowd of people who don't go away till daylight; who spoil my books and furniture; involve me in a foolish expense; for a gang of rowdy boys, who drink my Margaux, and Lafitte, and Marcobrunner, (what kind of drinks are those, dear Caroline?) and who don't know Chambertin from liquorice-water,—for a swarm of persons few of whom we know fewer, still care for me, and to whom I am only 'Old Potiphar,' the husband of you, a fashionable woman. I am simply resolved to have no more such tomfoolery in my house."
"Dear Mr. P.," said I, "you'll feel much better when you have slept. Besides, why do you say such things? Mustn't we see our friends, I should like to know; and if we do, are you going to let your wife receive them in a manner inferior to old Mrs. Podge or Mrs. Croesus? People will accuse you of meanness, and of treating me ill; and if some persons hear that you have reduced your style of living, they will begin to suspect the state of your affairs. Don't make any rash vows, Mr. P.," said I, "but go to sleep."
(Do you know that speech was just what Mrs. Croesus told me she had said to her husband under similar circumstances?)
Mr. P. fairly groaned, and I heard that short, strong little word that sometimes inadvertently drops out of the best regulated mouths, as young Gooseberry Downe says when he swears before his mother. Do you know Mrs. Settum Downe? Charming woman, but satirical.
Mr. P. groaned, and said some more ill-natured things, until the clock struck nine, and he was obliged to get up. I should be sorry to say to anybody but you, dearest, that I was rather glad of it; for I could then fall asleep at my ease; and these little connubial felicities (I think they call them) are so tiresome. But everybody agreed it was a beautiful ball; and I had the great gratification of hearing young Lord Mount Ague (you know you danced with him, love) say that it was quite the same thing as a ball at Buckingham Palace, except, of course, in size, and the number of persons, and dresses, and jewels, and the plate, and glass, and supper, and wines, and furnishing of the rooms, and lights, and some of those things, which are naturally upon a larger scale at a palace than in a private house. But, he said, excepting such things, it was quite as fine. I am afraid that Lord Mount Ague flatters; just a little bit you know.
Yes; and there was young Major Staggers, who said that "Decidedly it was the party of the season,"
"How odd," said Mrs. Croesus, to whom I told it, and, I confess, with a little pride. "What a sympathetic man: that is, for a military man, I mean. Would you believe, dear Mrs. Potiphar, that he said precisely the same thing to me two days after my ball?"
Now, Caroline, dearest, perhaps he did!
With all these pleasant things said about one's party, I cannot see that it is such a dismal thing as Mr. P. tries to make out. After one of his solemn talks, I asked Mr. Cheese what he thought of balls, whether it was so very wicked to dance, and go to parties, if one only went to church twice a day on Sundays. He patted his lips a moment with his handkerchief, and then he said,—and, Caroline, you can always quote the Rev. Cream Cheese as authority,—
"Dear Mrs. Potiphar, it is recorded in Holy Scripture that the King danced before the Lord."
Darling, if anything should happen, I don't believe he would object much to our dancing.
What gossips we women are, to be sure! I meant to write you about our new livery and I am afraid I have tired you out already. You remember when you were here, I said that I meant to have a livery, for my sister Margaret told me that when they used to drive in Hyde Park, with the old Marquis of Mammon, it was always so delightful to hear him say, "Ah! there is Lady Lobster's livery."
It was so aristocratic. And in countries where certain colors distinguish certain families, and are hereditary, so to say, it is convenient and pleasant to recognize a coat-of-arms, or a livery, and to know that the representative of a great and famous family is passing by.
"That's a Howard, that's a Eussell, that's a Dorset, that's de Colique, that's Mount Ague," old Lord Mammon used to say as the carriages whirled by. He knew none of them personally, I believe, except de Colique and Mount Ague, but then it was so agreeable to be able to know their liveries.
Now why shouldn't we have the same arrangement? Why not have the Smith colors, and the Brown colors, and the Black colors, and the Potiphar colors, etc., so that the people might say, "Ah! there goes the Potiphar arms."
There is one difficulty, Mr. P. says, and that is, that he found five hundred and sixty-seven Smiths in the Directory, which might lead to some confusion. But that was absurd, as I told him, because everybody would know which of the Smiths was able to keep a carriage, so that the livery would be recognized directly the moment that any of the family were seen in a carriage. Upon which he said, in his provoking way, "Why have any livery at all, then?" and he persisted in saying that no Smith was ever the Smith for three generations, and that he knew at least twenty, each of whom was able to set up his carriage and stand by his colors.
"But then a livery is so elegant and aristocratic," said I, "and it shows that a servant is a servant."
That last was a strong argument, and I thought Mr. P. would have nothing to say against it; but he rattled on for some time, asking me what right I had to be aristocratic, or, in fact, anybody else;—went over his eternal old talk about aping foreign habits, as if we hadn't a right to adopt the good usages of all nations, and finally said that the use of liveries among us was not only a "pure peacock absurdity," as he called it, but that no genuine American would ever ask another to assume a menial badge.
"Why!" said I, "is not an American servant a servant still?"
"Most undoubtedly," he said; "and when a man is a servant, let him serve faithfully; and in this country especially, where to-morrow he may be served, and not the servant, let him not be ashamed of serving. But, Mrs. Potiphar, I beg you to observe that a servant's livery is not, like a general's uniform the badge of honorable service, but of menial service. Of course, a servant may be as honorable as a general, and his work quite as necessary and well done. But, for all that, it is not so respected nor coveted a situation, I believe; and, in social estimation, a man suffers by wearing a livery, as he never would if he wore none. And while in countries in which a man is proud of being a servant (as every man may well be of being a good one), and never looks to anything else, nor desires any change, a livery may be very proper to the state of society, and very agreeable to his own feelings, it is quite another thing in a society constituted upon altogether different principles, where the servant of to-day is the senator of to-morrow. Besides that, which I suppose is too fine-spun for you, livery is a remnant of a feudal state, of which we abolish every trace as fast as we can. That which is represented by livery is not consonant with our principles."
How the man runs on, when he gets going this way! I said, in answer to all this flourish, that I considered a livery very much the thing; that European families had liveries and American families might have liveries;—that there was an end of it, and I meant to have one. Besides if it is a matter of family, I should like to know who has a better right? There was Mr. Potiphar's grandfather, to be sure, was only a skilful blacksmith and a good citizen, as Mr. P. says, who brought up a family in the fear of the Lord.
How oddly he puts those things!
But my ancestors, as you know, are a different matter. Starr Mole, who interests himself in genealogies, and knows the family name and crest of all the English nobility, has "climbed our family tree," as Staggers says, and finds that I am lineally descended from one of those two brothers who came over in some of those old times, in some of those old ships, and settled in some of those old places somewhere. So you see, dear Caroline, if birth gives any one a right to coats of arms and liveries, and all those things, I feel myself sufficiently entitled to have them.
But I don't care anything about that. The Gnus, and Croesuses, and Silkes, and the Settum Downes, have their coats of arms, and crests, and liveries, and I am not going to be behind, I tell you. Mr. P. ought to remember that a great many of these families were famous before they came to this country; and there is a kind of interest in having on your ring, for instance, the same crest that your ancestor two or three centuries ago had upon her ring. One day I was quite wrought up about the matter, and I said as much to him.
"Certainly," said he, "certainly; you are quite right. If I had Sir Philip Sidney to my ancestor, I should wear his crest upon my ring, and glory in my relationship, and I hope I should be a better man for it. I wouldn't put his arms upon my carriage, however, because that would mean nothing but ostentation. It would be merely a flourish of trumpets to say that I was his descendant, and nobody would know that, either, if my name chanced to be Boggs. In my library I might hang a copy of the family escutcheon as a matter of interest and curiosity to myself, for I'm sure I shouldn't understand it. Do you suppose Mrs. Gnu knows what gules argent are? A man may be as proud of his family as he chooses, and, if he has noble ancestors, with good reason. But there is no sense in parading that pride. It is an affectation, the more foolish that it achieves nothing—no more credit at Stewart's—no more real respect in society. Besides, Polly, who were Mrs. Gnu's ancestors, or Mrs. Croesus's, or Mrs. Settum Downe's? Good, quiet, honest, and humble people, who did their work, and rest from their labors. Centuries ago, in England, some drops of blood from 'noble' veins may have mingled with the blood of the forefathers; or even, the founder of the family name may be historically famous. What then? Is Mrs. Gnu's family ostentation less absurd? Do you understand the meaning of her crest, and coats of arms, and liveries? Do you suppose she does herself? But in forty-nine cases out of fifty, there is nothing but a similarity of name upon which to found all this flourish of aristocracy."
My dear old Pot is getting rather prosy, Carrie. So when he had finished that long speech, during which I was looking at the lovely fashion plates in Harper, I said:
"What colors do you think I'd better have?"
He looked at me with that singular expression, and went out suddenly, as if he were afraid he might say something.
He had scarcely gone before I heard:
"My dear Mrs. Potiphar, the sight of you is refreshing as Hermon's dew."
I colored a little; Mr. Cheese says such things so softly. But I said good morning, and then asked him about liveries, etc.
He raised his hand to his cravat, (it was the most snowy lawn, Carrie, and tied in a splendid bow.)
"Is not this a livery, dear Mrs. Potiphar?"
And then he went off into one of those pretty talks, in what Mr. P. calls the "language of artificial flowers," and wound up by quoting Scripture,—"Servants, obey your masters."
That was enough for me. So I told Mr. Cheese that as he had already assisted me in colors once, I should be most glad to have him do so again. What a time we had, to be sure, talking of colors, and cloths, and gaiters, and buttons, and knee-breeches, and waistcoats, and plush, and coats, and lace, and hatbands, and gloves, and cravats, and cords, and tassels, and hats. Oh! it was delightful. You can't fancy how heartily the Rev. Cream entered into the matter. He was quite enthusiastic, and at last he said, with so much expression, "Dear Mrs. Potiphar, why not have a chasseur?"
I thought it was some kind of French dish for lunch, so I said:
"I am so sorry, but we haven't any in the house."
"Oh," said he, "but you could hire one, you know."
Then I thought it must be a musical instrument—a Panharmonicon, or something of that kind, so I said in a general way—
"I am not very, very fond of it."
"But it would be so fine to have him standing on the back of the carriage, his plumes waving in the wind, and his lace and polished belts flashing in the sun, as you whirled down Broadway."
Of course I knew then that he was speaking of those military gentlemen who ride behind carriages, especially upon the Continent, as Margaret tells me, and who in Paris are very useful to keep the savages and wild beasts at bay in the Champ Elysees, for you know they are intended as a guard.
But I knew Mr. P. would be firm about that, so I asked Mr. Cheese not to kindle my imagination with the Chasseur.
We concluded finally to have only one full-sized footman, and a fat driver.
"The corpulence is essential, dear Mrs. Potiphar," said Mr. Cheese. "I have been much abroad; I have mingled, I trust, in good, which is to say, Christian society: and I must say, that few things struck me more upon my return than that the ladies who drive very handsome carriages, with footmen, etc., in livery, should permit such thin coachmen upon the box. I really believe that Mrs. Settum Downe's coachman doesn't weigh more than a hundred and thirty pounds, which is ridiculous. A lady might as well hire a footman with insufficient calves, as a coachman who weighs less than two hundred and ten. That is the minimum. Besides, I don't observe any wigs upon the coachmen. Now, if a lady sets up her carriage with the family crest and fine liveries, why, I should like to know, is the wig of the coachman omitted, and his cocked hat also? It is a kind of shabby, half-ashamed way of doing things—a garbled glory. The cock-hatted, knee-breeched, paste-buckled, horse-hair-wigged coachman, one of the institutions of the aristocracy. If we don't have him complete, we somehow make ourselves ridiculous. If we do have him complete, why then"—
Here Mr. Cheese coughed a little, and patted his mouth with his cambric. But what he said was very true. I should like to come out with the wig—I mean upon the coachman; it would so put down the Settum Downes. But I'm sure old Pot wouldn't have it. He lets me do a great deal. But there is a line which I feel he won't let me pass. I mentioned my fears to Mr. Cheese.
"Well," he said, "Mr. Potiphar may be right. I remember an expression of my carnal days about 'coming it too strong.' which seems to me to be applicable just here."
After a little more talk, I determined to have red plush breeches, with a black cord at the side—white stockings—low shoes with large buckles—a yellow waistcoat, with large buttons—lappels to the pockets—and a purple coat, very full and fine, bound with gold lace—and the hat banded with a full gold rogette. Don't you think that would look well in Hyde Park? And, darling Carrie, why shouldn't we have in Broadway what they have in Hyde Park?
When Mr. P. came in, I told him all about it. He laughed a good deal, and said, "What next?" So I am not sure that he would be so very hard upon the wig. The next morning I had appointed to see the new footman, and as Mr. P. went out he turned and said to me, "Is your footman coming to-day?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Well," said he, "don't forget the calves. You know that everything in the matter of livery depends upon the calves."
And he went out laughing silently to himself, with—actually, Carrie—a tear in his eye.
But it was true, wasn't it? I remember in all the books and pictures how much is said about the calves. In advertisements, etc., it is stated that none but well-developed calves need apply, at least it is so in England, and, if I have a livery, I am not going to stop half-way. My duty was very clear. When Mr. Cheese came in, I said I felt awkward in asking a servant about his calves,—it sounded so queerly. But I confessed that it was necessary.
"Yes, the path of duty is not always smooth, dear Mrs. Potiphar. It is often thickly strewn with thorns," said he, as he sank back in the fautteuil, and put down his petit verre of Marasquin.
Just after he had gone the new footman was announced. I assure you, although it is ridiculous, I felt quite nervous. But when he came in, I said calmly—
"Well, James, I am glad you have come."
"Please, ma'am, my name is Henry," said he.
I was astonished at his taking me up so, and said, decidedly—"James, the name of my footman is always James. You may call yourself what you please, I shall always call you James."
The idea of the man's undertaking to arrange my servants' names for me!
Well, he showed me his references, which were very good, and I was quite satisfied. But there was the terrible calf business that must be attended to. I put it off a great while, but I had to begin.
"Well, James!"—and there I stopped.
"Yes, ma'am," said he.
"I wish—yes—ah!"—and I stopped again.
"Yes, ma'am," said he.
"James, I wish you had come in knee-breeches."
"Ma'am?" said he in great surprise.
"In knee-breeches, James," repeated I.
"What be they, ma'am? what for, ma'am?" said he, a little frightened, as I thought.
"Oh! nothing, nothing; but—but—"
"Yes, ma'am," said James.
"But—but, I want to see—to see—"
"What ma'am?" said James.
"Your legs," gasped I; and the path was thorny enough, Carrie, I can tell you. I had a terrible time explaining to him what I meant, and all about the liveries, etc. Dear me! what a pity these things are not understood: and then we should never have this trouble about explanations. However, I couldn't make him agree to wear the livery. He said:
"I'll try to be a good servant, ma'am, but I cannot put on those things and make a fool of myself. I hope you won't insist, for I am very anxious to get a place."
Think of his dictating to me. I told him that I did not permit my servants to impose conditions upon me (that's one of Mrs. Croesus's sayings), that I was willing to pay him good wages and treat him well, but that my James must wear my livery. He looked very sorry, said that he should like the place very much,—that he was satisfied with the wages, and was sure that he should please me, but he could not put on those things. We were both determined, and so parted. I think we were both sorry; for I should have to go all through the calf-business again, and he lost a good place.
However, Caroline dear, I have my livery and my footman, and am as good as anybody. It's very splendid when I go to Stewart's to have the red plush and the purple, and the white calves springing down to open the door, and to see people look, and say, "I wonder who that is?" And everybody bows so nicely, and the clerks are so polite, and Mrs. Gnu is melting with envy on the other side, and Mrs. Croesus goes about saying, "Dear little woman, that Mrs. Potiphar, but so weak! Pity, pity!" And Mrs. Settum Downe says, "Is that the Potiphar livery? Ah, yes, Mr. Potiphar's grandfather used to shoe my grandfather's horses!"—(as if to be useful in the world, were a disgrace,—as Mr. P. says) and young Downe, and Boosey, and Timon Croesus come up and stand about so gentlemanly, and say, "Well Mrs. Potiphar, are we to have no more charming parties this season?"—and Boosey says, in his droll way, "Let's keep the ball a-rolling!" That young man is always ready with a witticism. Then I step out and James throws open the door, and the young men raise their hats, and the new crowd says, "I wonder who that is!" and the plush and purple, and calves spring up behind, and I drive home to dinner.
Now, Carrie, dear, isn't that nice?
Well, I don't know how it is—but things are so queer. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, in my room, which I have had tapestried with fluted rose silk, and lie thinking, under the lace curtains; although I may have been at one of Mrs. Gnu's splendid parties the night before, and am going to Mrs. Silke's to dinner, and to the opera and Mrs. Settum Downe's in the evening, and have nothing to do all the day but go to Stewart's, or Martelle's or Lefevre's, and shop, and pay morning calls;—do you know, as I say, that sometimes I hear an old familiar tune played upon a hand-organ far away in some street, and it seems to me in that half-drowsy state under the laces, that I hear the girls and boys singing it in the fields where we used to play. It is a kind of dream, I suppose, but often, as I listen, I am sure that I hear Henry's voice again that used to ring so gayly among the old trees, and I walk with him in the sunlight to the bank by the river, and he throws in the flower—as he really did—and says, with a laugh, "If it goes this side of the stump I am saved; if the other, I am lost;" and then he looks at me as if I had anything to do with it, and the flower drifts slowly off and off, and goes the other side of the old stump, and we walk homeward silently, until Henry laughs out, and says, "Thank heaven, my fate is not a flower;" and I swear to love him for ever and ever, and marry him, and live in a dingy little old room in some of the dark and dirty streets in the city.
Then I doze again: but presently the music steals into my sleep, and I see him as I saw him last standing in his pulpit, so calm and noble, and drawing the strong men as well as the weak women by his earnest persuasion; and after service he smiles upon me kindly, and says, "This is my wife, and the wife, who looks like the Madonna in that picture of Andrea Del Sarto's, which you liked so at the gallery, leads us to a little house buried in roses, looking upon a broad and lovely landscape," and Henry whispers to me as a beautiful boy bounds into the room, "Mrs. Potiphar, I am very happy."
I doze again until Adele comes in and opens the shutters. I do not hear the music any more; but those days I do somehow seem to hear it all the time. Of course, Mr. P. is gone long before I wake, so he knows nothing about all this. I generally come in at night after he is asleep, and he is up and has his breakfast, and goes down town before I wake in the morning. He comes home to dinner, but he is apt to be silent; and after dinner he takes his nap in the parlor over his newspaper, while I go up and let Adele dress my hair for the evening. Sometimes Mr. P. groans into a clean shirt and goes with me to the ball; but not often. When I come home, as I said, he is asleep, so I don't see a great deal of him, except in the summer, when I am at Saratoga or Newport; and then, not so much, after all, for he usually only passes Sunday, and I must be a good Christian, you know, and go to church. On the whole, we have not a very intimate acquaintance; but I have a great respect for him. He told me the other day that he should make at least thirty thousand dollars this year.
My darling Carrie—I am very sorry I can't write you a longer letter. I want to consult you about wearing gold powder like the new Empress. It would kill Mrs. Croesus if you and I should be the first to come out in it; and don't you think the effect would be fine, when we were dancing, to shower the gold mist around us! How it would sparkle upon the gentlemen's black coats! ("Yes," says Mr. P., "and how finely Gauche Boosey, and Timon Croesus, and young Downe will look in silk tights and small clothes!") They say it's genuine gold ground up. I have already sent for a white velvet and lace—the Empress's bridal dress, you know. That foolish old P. asked me if I had sent for the Emperor and the Bank of France too.