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Chapter 4

  • FROM LOUIS LEVERETT, IN PARIS, TO HARVARD TREMONT, IN BOSTON.
  • September 25th.
  • My dear Harvard—I have carried out my plan, of which I gave you a hint in m_ast, and I only regret that I should not have done it before. It is huma_ature, after all, that is the most interesting thing in the world, and i_nly reveals itself to the truly earnest seeker. There is a want o_arnestness in that life of hotels and railroad trains, which so many of ou_ountrymen are content to lead in this strange Old World, and I was distresse_o find how far I, myself; had been led along the dusty, beaten track. I had,
  • however, constantly wanted to turn aside into more unfrequented ways; t_lunge beneath the surface and see what I should discover. But the opportunit_ad always been missing; somehow, I never meet those opportunities that w_ear about and read about—the things that happen to people in novels an_iographies. And yet I am always on the watch to take advantage of any openin_hat may present itself; I am always looking out for experiences, fo_ensations—I might almost say for adventures.
  • The great thing is to LIVE, you know—to feel, to be conscious of one'_ossibilities; not to pass through life mechanically and insensibly, like _etter through the post-office. There are times, my dear Harvard, when I fee_s if I were really capable of everything—capable de tout, as they say here—o_he greatest excesses as well as the greatest heroism. Oh, to be able to sa_hat one has lived—qu'on a vecu, as they say here—that idea exercises a_ndefinable attraction for me. You will, perhaps, reply, it is easy to say it;
  • but the thing is to make people believe you! And, then, I don't want an_econd-hand, spurious sensations; I want the knowledge that leaves _race—that leaves strange scars and stains and reveries behind it! But I a_fraid I shock you, perhaps even frighten you.
  • If you repeat my remarks to any of the West Cedar Street circle, be sure yo_one them down as your discretion will suggest. For yourself; you will kno_hat I have always had an intense desire to see something of REAL FRENCH LIFE.
  • You are acquainted with my great sympathy with the French; with my natura_endency to enter into the French way of looking at life. I sympathise wit_he artistic temperament; I remember you used sometimes to hint to me that yo_hought my own temperament too artistic. I don't think that in Boston there i_ny real sympathy with the artistic temperament; we tend to make everything _atter of right and wrong. And in Boston one can't LIVE—on ne peut pas vivre,
  • as they say here. I don't mean one can't reside—for a great many people manag_hat; but one can't live aesthetically—I may almost venture to say,
  • sensuously. This is why I have always been so much drawn to the French, wh_re so aesthetic, so sensuous. I am so sorry that Theophile Gautier has passe_way; I should have liked so much to go and see him, and tell him all that _we him. He was living when I was here before; but, you know, at that time _as travelling with the Johnsons, who are not aesthetic, and who used to mak_e feel rather ashamed of my artistic temperament. If I had gone to see th_reat apostle of beauty, I should have had to go clandestinely—en cachette, a_hey say here; and that is not my nature; I like to do everything frankly,
  • freely, naivement, au grand jour. That is the great thing—to be free, to b_rank, to be naif. Doesn't Matthew Arnold say that somewhere—or is i_winburne, or Pater?
  • When I was with the Johnsons everything was superficial; and, as regards life,
  • everything was brought down to the question of right and wrong. They were to_idactic; art should never be didactic; and what is life but an art? Pater ha_aid that so well, somewhere. With the Johnsons I am afraid I lost man_pportunities; the tone was gray and cottony, I might almost say woolly. Bu_ow, as I tell you, I have determined to take right hold for myself; to loo_ight into European life, and judge it without Johnsonian prejudices. I hav_aken up my residence in a French family, in a real Parisian house. You see _ave the courage of my opinions; I don't shrink from carrying out my theor_hat the great thing is to LIVE.
  • You know I have always been intensely interested in Balzac, who never shran_rom the reality, and whose almost LURID pictures of Parisian life have ofte_aunted me in my wanderings through the old wicked- looking streets on th_ther side of the river. I am only sorry that my new friends—my Frenc_amily—do not live in the old city—au coeur du vieux Paris, as they say here.
  • They live only in the Boulevard Haussman, which is less picturesque; but i_pite of this they have a great deal of the Balzac tone. Madame de Maisonroug_elongs to one of the oldest and proudest families in France; but she has ha_everses which have compelled her to open an establishment in which a limite_umber of travellers, who are weary of the beaten track, who have the sense o_ocal colour—she explains it herself; she expresses it so well—in short, t_pen a sort of boarding-house. I don't see why I should not, after all, us_hat expression, for it is the correlative of the term pension bourgeoise,
  • employed by Balzac in the Pere Goriot. Do you remember the pension bourgeois_f Madame Vauquer nee de Conflans? But this establishment is not at all lik_hat: and indeed it is not at all bourgeois; there is something distinguished,
  • something aristocratic, about it. The Pension Vauquer was dark, brown, sordid,
  • graisseuse; but this is in quite a different tone, with high, clear, lightly-
  • draped windows, tender, subtle, almost morbid, colours, and furniture i_legant, studied, reed-like lines. Madame de Maisonrouge reminds me of Madam_ulot—do you remember "la belle Madame Hulot?"—in Les Barents Pauvres. She ha_ great charm; a little artificial, a little fatigued, with a littl_uggestion of hidden things in her life; but I have always been sensitive t_he charm of fatigue, of duplicity.
  • I am rather disappointed, I confess, in the society I find here; it is not s_ocal, so characteristic, as I could have desired. Indeed, to tell the truth,
  • it is not local at all; but, on the other hand, it is cosmopolitan, and ther_s a great advantage in that. We are French, we are English, we are American,
  • we are German; and, I believe, there are some Russians and Hungarian_xpected. I am much interested in the study of national types; in comparing,
  • contrasting, seizing the strong points, the weak points, the point of view o_ach. It is interesting to shift one's point of view—to enter into strange,
  • exotic ways of looking at life.
  • The American types here are not, I am sorry to say, so interesting as the_ight be, and, excepting myself; are exclusively feminine. We are THIN, m_ear Harvard; we are pale, we are sharp. There is something meagre about us;
  • our line is wanting in roundness, our composition in richness. We lac_emperament; we don't know how to live; nous ne savons pas vivre, as they sa_ere. The American temperament is represented (putting myself aside, and _ften think that my temperament is not at all American) by a young girl an_er mother, and another young girl without her mother—without her mother o_ny attendant or appendage whatever. These young girls are rather curiou_ypes; they have a certain interest, they have a certain grace, but they ar_isappointing too; they don't go far; they don't keep all they promise; the_on't satisfy the imagination. They are cold, slim, sexless; the physique i_ot generous, not abundant; it is only the drapery, the skirts and furbelows
  • (that is, I mean in the young lady who has her mother) that are abundant. The_re very different: one of them all elegance, all expensiveness, with an ai_f high fashion, from New York; the other a plain, pure, clear-eyed, straight-
  • waisted, straight-stepping maiden from the heart of New England. And yet the_re very much alike too—more alike than they would care to think themselve_or they eye each other with cold, mistrustful, deprecating looks. They ar_oth specimens of the emancipated young American girl—practical, positive,
  • passionless, subtle, and knowing, as you please, either too much or to_ittle. And yet, as I say, they have a certain stamp, a certain grace; I lik_o talk with them, to study them.
  • The fair New Yorker is, sometimes, very amusing; she asks me if every one i_oston talks like me—if every one is as "intellectual" as your poo_orrespondent. She is for ever throwing Boston up at me; I can't get rid o_oston. The other one rubs it into me too; but in a different way; she seem_o feel about it as a good Mahommedan feels toward Mecca, and regards it as _ind of focus of light for the whole human race. Poor little Boston, wha_onsense is talked in thy name! But this New England maiden is, in her way, _trange type: she is travelling all over Europe alone—"to see it," she says,
  • "for herself." For herself! What can that stiff slim self of hers do with suc_ights, such visions! She looks at everything, goes everywhere, passes he_ay, with her clear quiet eyes wide open; skirting the edge of obscene abysse_ithout suspecting them; pushing through brambles without tearing her robe;
  • exciting, without knowing it, the most injurious suspicions; and alway_olding her course, passionless, stainless, fearless, charmless! It is _ittle figure in which, after all, if you can get the right point of view,
  • there is something rather striking.
  • By way of contrast, there is a lovely English girl, with eyes as shy a_iolets, and a voice as sweet! She has a sweet Gainsborough head, and a grea_ainsborough hat, with a mighty plume in front of it, which makes a shado_ver her quiet English eyes. Then she has a sage-green robe, "mystic,
  • wonderful," all embroidered with subtle devices and flowers, and birds o_ender tint; very straight and tight in front, and adorned behind, along th_pine, with large, strange, iridescent buttons. The revival of taste, of th_ense of beauty, in England, interests me deeply; what is there in a simpl_ow of spinal buttons to make one dream—to donnor a rever, as they say here? _hink that a great aesthetic renascence is at hand, and that a great ligh_ill be kindled in England, for all the world to see. There are spirits ther_hat I should like to commune with; I think they would understand me.
  • This gracious English maiden, with her clinging robes, her amulets an_irdles, with something quaint and angular in her step, her carriage somethin_ediaeval and Gothic, in the details of her person and dress, this lovel_velyn Vane (isn't it a beautiful name?) is deeply, delightfully picturesque.
  • She is much a woman—elle est bien femme, as they say here; simpler, softer,
  • rounder, richer than the young girls I spoke of just now. Not much talk—_reat, sweet silence. Then the violet eye—the very eye itself seems to blush;
  • the great shadowy hat, making the brow so quiet; the strange, clinging,
  • clutching, pictured raiment! As I say, it is a very gracious, tender type. Sh_as her brother with her, who is a beautiful, fair-haired, gray-eyed youn_nglishman. He is purely objective; and he, too, is very plastic.