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CHAPTER II. - Gouverneur Morris, The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, vol. 1 
The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, Minister of the United States to France; Member of the Constitutional Convention, ed. Anne Cary Morris (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
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Morris Lands at Havre. Goes to Paris. Letter to the French minister in America. State of Paris. Washington’s commission. Letter to William Carmichael. Society life. Madame de Chastellux’s salon and others. Paris on the eve of the Revolution. Madame de Beauharnais at home. Presented to Montmorin. Meets the Duchess of Orleans. M. de Malesherbes. Letter to the Marquis de la Luzerne. Madame de Tessé’s Republican salon. Hurry of life in Paris. Lafayette’s election in Auvergne. Paupers in Paris. Morris’s busy life. Meets Madame de Flahaut. Pleasant days and evenings with charming women. Dines with Necker. Madame de Staël, Supper with the Baron de Besenval. Interview with the Maréchal de Castries. Visit to the statues at the Louvre. A day of Misfortunes.
On Tuesday, the 27th of January, 1789, after a tempestuous voyage of forty days, the Henrietta entered the port of Havre. After landing, Morris at once sought out the persons who were engaged with Robert Morris in the tobacco and flour contracts, and the business he had undertaken for his friend was pushed forward with all the energy which was one of his strongest characteristics. Part of his work during the few days he spent at Havre was investigating the chances for speculation in wheat, of which there was, at the moment, he wrote, “an actual scarcity and a still greater expected.” He immediately conceived and communicated to William Constable & Co., of New York, with whom he was in special partnership, a plan “for purchasing all the wheat on Hudson’s river,” and entered into arrangements by which it should reach France at the moment of the greatest demand—” thereby raising the price on the other side of the Atlantic.” By the 3d of February he was in Paris, and settled at the Hôtel Richelieu, Rue de Richelieu. In his early letters and diary he says nothing whatever of his impressions of Paris—his entire attention and time were given to finding out from the firms of Le Normand and Bourdieu the reason of their failure to accept large consignments of tobacco for which they had contracted, and why his friend should be placed in a “situation unexampled for a man of his property.”
His first allusion to Paris and public affairs in France is in a letter to the Comte de Moustier,* then in America, in which he speaks of the cordial reception the count’s letters had procured him.
“The more I see of Paris,” he wrote, “the more sensible I am of your sacrifice in leaving it to traverse a great ocean, and establish yourself with a people as yet too new to relish that society which forms here the delight of life. For devoting thus to the public service both your time and enjoyments, you have as yet been poorly recompensed. Your nation is now in a most important crisis, and the question, Shall we have a constitution or shall will continue to be law? employs every mind and agitates every heart in France. Even voluptuousness itself arises from its couch of roses and looks anxiously abroad, at the busy scene to which nothing can now be indifferent. Your nobles, your clergy, your people, are all in motion for the elections. A spirit which has lain dormant for generations starts up and stares about ignorant of the means of obtaining, but ardently desirous to possess the object, consequently active, energetic, easily led, but, alas, easily, too easily, misled. Such is the instinctive love of freedom which now boils in the bosom of your country, that respect for his sovereign, which forms the distinctive mark of a Frenchman, stimulates and fortifies on the present occasion those sentiments which have hitherto been deemed most hostile to monarchy. For Louis the Sixteenth has himself proclaimed from the throne, a wish that every barrier should be thrown down which time or accident may have opposed to the general felicity of his people. It would be presumptuous in me even to guess at the effect of such causes, operating on materials and institutions of which I confess to you the most profound ignorance.
“I feel that I have already gone too far in attempting to describe what I think I have perceived. But before I quit the subject I must express the wish, the ardent wish, that this great ferment may terminate not only to the good but to the glory of France. On the scenes which her great theatre now displays, the eyes of the universe are fixed with anxiety. The national honor is deeply interested in a successful issue. Indulge me also, I pray, in conveying the opinion that until that issue is known, every arrangement both foreign and domestic must feel a panic. Horace tells us that in crossing the sea we change our climate not our souls. I can say what he could not; that I find on this side the Atlantic a strong resemblance to what I left on the other—a nation which exists in hopes, prospects, and expectations—the reverence for ancient establishments gone, existing forms shaken to the foundation, and a new order of things about to take place, in which, perhaps even to the very names, all former institutions will be disregarded.
“To judge of the present turmoil I can give you no better standard than by telling you, what is seriously true, that when I took up the pen it was to give you news of your friends, and to describe the impression made on my mind by the objects which necessarily present themselves in this great capital, I will not say of France, but of Europe. And have I done it? Yes, for the one great object in which all are engaged has swallowed up, like the rod of Aaron in Egypt, every other enchantment by which France was fascinated.”
It must have been a curious and melancholy spectacle which Paris presented to a thoughtful man and a foreigner; one, too, just from a society very new and decidedly affected by the Quaker element. The convulsion which was already shaking society to its foundation everywhere disturbed the atmosphere. Intrigues, social and political, were rife; the Court was sinking in a quicksand of pleasure. The king struggled, in a feeble way, to raise the moral standard, but not to any extent could he purify the Court, and only for the moment could he pacify the indignant and starving multitude who clamored outside the palace-gates. Fatigued with pleasure, bored with everything, the young men recklessly accumulated debts, solely, it would seem, in the hope of amusing themselves. But Paris was gay, full of men and things to interest and amuse. Philosophers, patriots, men of letters, rioters, beautiful women, clever and witty, leaders of society and politics, were all there. Everything, nearly, could be found in Paris, “but scavengers and lamps,” as Arthur Young said. The streets were narrow and without foot-pavements; they were dirty and crowded. “To walk through them was toil and fatigue to a man and an impossibility to a well-dressed woman,” says Young again. One-horse cabriolets abounded, driven recklessly by young men of fashion, endangering life and limb. Persons of moderate means, unable to own carriages, were forced by the mud and filth to dress in black, with black stockings. This circumstance alone marked strongly the line between the man of fortune and the man without. Public opinion had somewhat modified the dress of the ladies, and the enormously high structure which had been supposed to adorn the female head during the Regency changed, in 1780, to a low coiffure, started by the queen, and called the “coiffure à l’enfant.” Four years later the chapeau “à la caisse d’escompte, chapeau sans fond comme cette caisse,”* came into fashion. Having lost the elevated head-dress, than which nothing could be more grotesque, the dress-makers proceeded to deform nature in another way, and the enormous poches came into vogue which made a woman look like a “Hottentot Venus”† destroying nature’s form. Extremely high heels, much rouge, and many mouches were supposed to heighten their beauty. The men, sword at the side, hat under the arm, with very trim, high-heel shoes, braided or embroidered coats, powdered hair caught together at the back in a small bag, called a bourse, and with two watch-chains, on the ends of which hung a vast number of charms, or breloques, were to be seen in the street carrying themselves with much stiffness and pride. This bearing, however, changed speedily on entering the antechamber. “A marvellous suppleness attacked their backs, a complacent smile succeeded the severe one, their conversation was full of adulation and baseness.”* By the year 1791 the seriousness, not to say the terrors of the Revolution, had eradicated much of this nonsense; etiquette and ceremonial lost their power; the women abandoned high heels and powder, and the men put their hats on their heads, gave up powder, wore their hair naturally, and only carried swords in defence of their country. Even the form of ending a letter changed, with the levelling influence of the times, from the very adulatory and elaborate method to simple “salutations amicales” or “assurances d’estime;” “le respect” was reserved for women of high position and old people.†
In strong contrast to the mincing fine gentleman, picking his way through the mire and filth of the streets, was the pauper element. This was enormously represented—a stormy, riotous mob, ready for anything, and employing their time begging and singing rhymes in honor of the third estate. From the Palais Royal newspapers advocating the rights of the third party literally flowed, and found a large reading-public ready to receive them. In the month of June pamphlets were in all hands; “even lackeys are poring over them at the gates of hotels.”‡ “A little later, every hour produced something new. Thirteen came out to-day, sixteen yesterday, and ninety last week.”§
These tracts were spread through the provinces: and nearly all of them, teeming with levelling and seditious principles, advocated liberty, and violence against the nobles and clergy. Only two or three pamphlets on the other side had merit enough to be known.
As early as February, 1789, Necker avowed that “obedience is not to be found anywhere, and that even the troops are not to be relied on.” This state of things in Paris ushered in the meeting of the States-General, called, after the lapse of one hundred and sixty years, to work seemingly impossible reforms, and to frame a constitution under which France should be free and happy.
The commission with which General Washington had intrusted Morris was his first care, and he at once applied for information to Mr. Jefferson, then American Minister at Versailles; and in a letter to Washington he tells him this, and that the man who had made Madison’s watch was a rogue, and recommended him to another, namely, Romilly. “But as it might happen that this also was a rogue, I inquired at a very honest man’s shop, not a watchmaker, and he recommended Gregson. A gentleman with me assured me that Gregson was a rogue, and both of them agreed that Romilly is of the old school, and he and his watches out of fashion. And to say that of a man in Paris is like saying he is an ordinary man among the Friends of Philadelphia. I found at last that M. L’Épine is at the head of his profession here, and, in consequence, asks more for his work than anybody else. I therefore waited on M. L’Épine and agreed with him for two watches exactly alike, one of which will be for you and the other for me.”
Turning to public affairs, he continues: “Our new Constitution has greatly raised our reputation in Europe, but your appointment and acceptance would go far to fix the general opinion of the fact. By the bye, in the melancholy situation to which the poor King of England has been reduced, there were, I am told, (in relation to you) some whimsical circumstances. His first outset was to seize Mr. Pitt by the collar and with outrageous language addressed to the Rebel General, had nearly strangled him before he could get help. Afterwards the Defender of the Faith, in one of his caprices, conceived himself to be no less a personage than George Washington at the head of the American Army. This shows that you have done something or other which sticks most terribly in his stomach. And the Prince of Wales I am told intends, (no doubt from filial piety and respect) to be very good friends with the country and the man who have turned his father’s head.”
His next letter was addressed to Mr. Carmichael, the American minister at Madrid and an old friend. He expresses his attachment to him and desire to fly to him, if he were not restrained by important objects, to be attended to at once. He says: “You intimate a desire to know my situation and intentions. For the former it is simply this: by acquiring property I have placed myself in the common situation of desiring more,—but with the same frankness with which I avow that desire, let me assure you that the thirst for riches has never yet vitiated my palate. I wish not to accumulate, but to enjoy. And age has pointed out a different path towards enjoyment from that which delighted my youthful footsteps. In a word, I wish to possess what I possess in peace, and for that purpose I want lively property. Various means are before me. You speak of becoming an American farmer, in the last result and as a last resource. I have ever viewed it as my great desideratum. But let it for both of us be otium cum dignitate. And to this end it is essential to possess a moderate share of fortune’s favors. As soon as I can I shall proceed to Holland. But I contemplate a return to this capital as speedily as possible, and from hence I wish to go to Madrid. You will calculate, however, that as the most important scene enacted for many years on the European theatre, will in the next months be displayed at this place, I, in common with all others, have curiosity to see it. You must also consider that I have motives stronger than curiosity, for until the States-General shall have decided on the important objects for which they are convened, this government can take no solid arrangement for anything. Lafayette is out of town. He is gone to Auvergne to get himself elected either for the Noblesse or the Tiers État. I hope the former, for he would otherwise (in my opinion) be too desperately estranged from his own class. As he did not communicate to me his hesitation, I presume that he had determined, for he made some important communications just before his departure. Apropos—a term which my Lord Chesterfield well observes all generally use to bring in what is not at all to the purpose—apropos, then, I have here the strangest employment imaginable. A republican, and just, as it were, emerged from that assembly which has formed one of the most republican of all republican constitutions, I preach incessantly respect for the Prince, attention to the rights of the nobility, and moderation, not only in the object but also in the pursuit of it. All this, you will say, is none of my business, but I consider France as the natural ally of my country—and of course that we are interested in her prosperity. Besides, (to say the truth) I love France, and as I believe the King to be an honest and good man I sincerely wish him well—and the more so as I am persuaded that he earnestly desires the felicity of his people.”
Letters to prominent people gave Morris at once an entrée into the different sets of society, and invitations to breakfasts, dinners, and suppers were not wanting. On one occasion only he mentioned not being perfectly master of French, which he had not spoken since his school-days, but it was not long before he acquired an uncommon facility both in writing and speaking it. One day which he mentions seems more than full. It began with a breakfast at M. le Normand’s, where they discussed the tobacco subject, so deeply interesting to the speculator as well as the smoker. The same day he dined with Madame Dumolley, who included in her society the extremely noisy element, the men who came on foot, and without the adornments of dress. Her Monday entertainments, and small intrigues were to her the sole end and aim of the week; she lived for them, and the guests who were the special favorites of the moment. Madame Dumolley had a pleasant face and an agreeable varnish of politeness; and this, added to the fact that she never failed to include a more or less vigorous love-making episode in her pursuit after happiness, rendered her salon attractive. She evidently exhibited a taste for horticulture, for Morris promised to send to America for seeds and plants for her. Later in the evening, after the play, a supper was to be partaken of with Madame de la Caze, at whose house he met a large party, absorbed in quinze. Here, he says: “M. de Bersheni, for want of something else to do, asks me many questions about America, in a manner which shows he cares little for the information. By way of giving him some adequate idea of our people, when he mentioned the necessity of fleets and armies to secure us against invasion, I tell him that nothing would be more difficult than to subdue a nation every individual of which, in the pride of freedom, thinks himself a king. ‘And if, sir, you should look down on him, would say, “I am a man. Are you anything more?”’ ‘All this is very well; but there must be a difference of ranks, and I should say to one of these people, “You, sir, who are equal to a king, make me a pair of shoes.”’ ‘Our citizens, sir, have a manner of thinking peculiar to themselves. This shoemaker would reply, “Sir, I am very glad of the opportunity to make you a pair of shoes. It is my duty to make shoes. I love to do my duty.”’ This manner of thinking and speaking, however, is too masculine for the climate I am in.”
Most of the mornings were passed in receiving visits and writing—not only keeping up a correspondence, daily accumulating, but in copying all his own letters into books and generally sending duplicates of them to America besides. A letter to Robert Morris (March 2d) requested him to send Madame Dumolley’s seeds, and begged his attention to another object, which was to “obtain for me an account of the American tonnage—that is, the number of tons of the vessels of U. S. I want this for the Maréchal de Castries. This nobleman was so kind as to seek an acquaintance with me in consequence of some letters I had written to the late Marquis de Chastellux and which he had translated and shown to several persons. The last of these letters occupied him in the illness which proved fatal, about three months ago. I forget the contents but in my rash manner I had, it seems, given opinions about the situation and affairs of this country which (luckily) proved to be just. Shortly after my arrival here I received a message from Madame de Chastellux desiring a visit to the wife of my late friend, and speedily, as she was on the point of lying in. I waited upon her, and two days after received an intimation from M. de Castries that as he was already acquainted with me through the letters above mentioned he wished for an interview, etc. In consequence I waited on him. He has since asked me to dinner, and promised to present me to M. Necker, to whom I have not yet delivered your letter. It is thought that M. de Castries will again be made Minister of the Marine. He both expects and wishes for it, and he is an intimate friend of M. Necker who, as I have already told you, holds fast to the farmers-general. But what is of more consequence in my eyes than situation or connection, they are men of honor and rectitude.”
The Maréchal de Chastellux served under Rochambeau in the War for American Independence, in 1780. Madame de Chastellux, an extremely charming and accomplished Irishwoman, lady in waiting to the Duchess of Orleans* and her confidential friend and companion, drew round her those immediately connected with the Court. It was in her salon, very shortly after his arrival in Paris, that Morris met the Duchess of Orleans, the beautiful and charming daughter of the Duc de Penthièvre, whose love-marriage with the Duc de Chartres, who became the Duc d’Orléans and, later, the notorious Philippe Égalité, had been happy until about this time, when the duke’s irregularities rendered her life sad and uncertain. With her Morris formed a sincere and lasting friendship. Here also he met the Comtesse de Sêgur, who told him at the first meeting that she was afraid that he “might not arrive before she left the room.” Among the six or seven grand salons of Paris, that of Madame de Ségur mère, the natural daughter of the Regent, had for years occupied a conspicuous place; and she, notwithstanding her age, retained all her vivacity, charming young and old alike with her memories and tales of the Regent’s time and of her own eventful life. Her daughter-in-law, the Maréchale de Ségur, who always aided her in doing the honors, added to the attraction of the salon by her gentle grace and charming manner. With these queens of the salon to instruct him, it was not long before Morris, being an apt scholar, found himself fully initiated into the mysteries of coquetry; for these seductive court ladies never feared to follow their flattering words with the “look, manner, and tone of voice perfectly in unison with the sentiment.” But Morris was wary of such flatteries, though admitting that “a pleasing error might be preferable to a disagreeable truth.” In March he wrote to Washington, and expressed his unbounded surprise at “the astonishing spectacle” which, he said, “this country presents to one who has collected his ideas from books and information half a dozen years old. Everything is à l’anglaise, and the desire to imitate the English prevails alike in the cut of a coat, and the form of a constitution. Like the English, too, all are engaged in parliamenteering, and when we consider how novel this last business must be, I assure you their progress is far from contemptible.”
On Tuesday (March 3d), the salon of Madame la Comtesse de Beauharnais was opened to him, by an invitation of a week’s standing, to dine at three o’clock. Setting off in great haste, to be punctual, and arriving at a quarter past the hour, he found in the drawing-room “some dirty linen and no fire.” While the waiting-woman takes away one, a valet lights up the other. Three small sticks in a deep heap of ashes give no great expectation of heat. By the smoke, however, all doubts are removed respecting the existence of fire. To expel the smoke a window is opened, and the day being cold I have the benefit of as fresh air as can reasonably be expected in so large a city. Towards 4 o’clock the guests begin to assemble, and I begin to suspect that as madame is a poetess, I shall have the honor to dine with that excellent part of the species who devote themselves to the Muses. In effect, the gentlemen begin to compliment their respective works, and as regular hours cannot be expected in a house where the mistress is occupied more with the intellectual than the material world, I have the delightful prospect of a continuance of the scene. Towards five, madame steps in to announce dinner, and the hungry poets advance to the charge. As they bring good appetites they have certainly reason to praise the feast, and I console myself in the persuasion that for this day at least I shall escape indigestion. A very narrow escape, too, for some rancid butter of which the cook had been very liberal, puts me in bodily fear. If the repast is not abundant we have at least the consolation that there is no lack of conversation. Not being perfectly master of the language, most of the jests escape me; as for the rest of the company, each being employed either in saying a good thing, or studying one to say, ‘tis no wonder if he cannot find time to explain that of his neighbor. They all agree that we live in an age alike deficient in justice and in taste. Each finds in the fate of his own works numerous instances to justify the censure. They tell me, to my great surprise, that the public now condemn theatrical compositions before they have heard the first recitals, and to remove my doubts, the comtesse is so kind as to assure me that this rash decision has been made on one of her own pieces. In pitying modern degeneracy, we rise from the table. I take my leave immediately after the coffee, which by no means dishonors the precedent repast, and madame informs me that on Tuesdays and Thursdays she is always at home, and will always be glad to see me. While I stammer out some return to the compliment, my heart, convinced of my unworthiness to partake of such Attic entertainment, makes me promise never again to occupy the place, from which, perhaps, I had excluded a worthier personage.”
On the 5th of March Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Morris went, together to Versailles, the latter to be presented to the Comte de Montmorin,* then Minister of Foreign Affairs, and to deliver his letters to him. He found him civil, but in a polite way he rather intimated that “he had already more trouble than he desires with strangers. Thence to the Comte de Caluzem, who receives me with a degree of hauteur I never before experienced. On reading my letters of introduction from his brother the Marquis, his features and manner are at once softened into affability, and the gout in one foot takes the blame of the precedent looks, which I believe had produced something correspondent in my features. I render the visit as short as possible, and wait on the Comte d’Angivilliers, whose politeness compensates in a great degree for the ministerial atmosphere I have just now breathed. In spite of predetermination, my visit is too long, and thus by being troublesome I pay a compliment, whose value he cannot be sensible of. This visit, short as it is, and the first I ever made to a court, has convinced me that I am not formed to succeed there. Return to Paris and dine with Madame de Tessé—republicans of the first feather. The countess, who is a very sensible woman, has formed her ideas of government in a manner not suited, I think, either to the situation, the circumstances, or the disposition of France, and there are many such.”
The evening of this rather eventful day was passed in the salon of Madame de Chastellux, where the Duchess of Orleans was also whiling away an hour. “Madame de Chastellux presents me to her Highness, informing me that she had the goodness to permit of my reception. In the course of the visit, her Royal Highness has the condescension to speak to one who is only a human being. My morning’s course has taught me the value of a few words uttered in a gentle tone from such a character.”
The reckless driving in the streets of Paris—a peculiarity remarked to-day by visitors to the French capital— Morris rather humorously ridicules in the following lines, entitled “Paris:”
A dinner was given to Morris on the 7th of March by the Baron de Montvoissieu “at the request of M. de Malesherbes,* who is there—a pleasant, respectable old man, whose daughter, Madame de Montvoissieu, has five fine children. It has the effect of rendering her happy. At least she has more the appearance than any other woman I have seen here. M. l’Évêque d’Arras tells me our new Constitution is the best that has ever yet been found, but has some faults which arise from our imitation of the English.”
M. de Malesherbes quite captivated Morris, who spoke enthusiastically of him in a letter to the Marquis de la Luzerne, then ambassador at London. “I am in love,” he wrote, “with one of your family, and this is not singular, for everyone else has the same passion, though not perhaps in so great a degree. I am sure you will not accuse me of want of taste, when I tell you that the person in question is M. de Malesherbes. He has so much goodness and so much serenity that it is impossible not to feel a very sincere affection for him. I must tell you how glad I should have been to have met you here, where there are a thousand things in which a stranger has need of advice, but although I much regret your absence, yet I have too much affection for you to wish you here. France seems to be in a situation which, terminate as it may with respect to public affairs, cannot fail eventually to produce dissensions in private circles. … Stay where you are a little while, and when you come back you will hardly know your country. As yet the spectacles hold some share in the conversation, but I hear as much politics among the ladies of Paris as ever you did among those of Philadelphia. Republicanism is absolutely a moral influenza, from which neither titles, places, nor even the diadem can guard their possessor. If when the States-General assemble their debates should be published, the Lord preserve us from a hot summer.”
Mr. Jefferson, the American minister, was just on the eve of departure for America, and no one had as yet been appointed in his place. “The Comte de Puisignieu,” Morris says, “tells me that I must stay in France to fill Jefferson’s place, by which I understand a wish to discover if I have any views and expectations. I assure him with great truth that I have no desire to be in that place even if it were vacant.” It was not long after the evening spent in Madame de Tessé’s republican salon that Morris was told by Madame de Lafayette that she considered him an aristocrat, and in consequence of his conversation with Madame de Tessé—that enthusiast who had worked for years to make a constitution for France, and was ready to shed her last drop of blood if perchance she might see it accepted; and it was doubtless not a little surprising to Morris to discover that “his ideas were too moderate for that company.”
Another surprise seems to have been the cold, uncomfortable weather which he found, instead of the “smiling European spring about which,” he says, “so much has been said and sung.” “To-day the face of the country is that of January, all white,” he mentions in his diary, “and from present appearances one would hardly expect the genial spring ever to come.”
The hurry of life in Paris evidently troubled him, for in a letter to his brother (March 11th) he says:
“I have one great objection to Paris, which is that I have not a moment’s time. The amusements I cannot partake of because my business in the morning and my engagements till midnight keep me in a perpetual hurry. I have seen enough to convince me that a man might in this city be incessantly employed for forty years and grow old without knowing what he had been about. This is a charming circumstance for those who, having nothing to do, would otherwise be obliged to study how best to kill old time, and who waste their hours in constant complaints that the days of man are short and few.”
During the spring the affairs of a certain Mr. Nesbitt, who seemed to be in a chronic state of hiding from his creditors, gave Morris more or less trouble, and no small share of amusement, owing to various contretemps, while seeking the presence of certain ministers “with whom,” he said, “I am utterly unacquainted.” One encounter he particularly mentioned, where he was to go to Versailles and call upon M. DeVille Delville, and where “I am to make the modest request that he will grant me the favor to stop the usual course of law and justice.”
A letter from Count Dillon* was to open the way to an interview with the Minister. But it is best to let Morris tell his own experience of approaching so high a personage. “Arrived at Versailles,” he says, “the coachman sets me down at the door of M. de Puisegur, Minister at War. After waiting for my turn I address the Minister by asking if he is M. DeVille Delville, to whom I have the honor of addressing myself. He informs me of my mistake, and as he is a man of the sword and not of the robe, this mistake is not a small one.” Finally, when M. Delville is found and appealed to for help he refuses to understand reason; and the next morning the unfortunate Mr. Nesbitt woke Morris at any early hour, by rushing into his chamber to escape from the officer. “I get up,” Morris says, “and endeavor to persuade this latter to go away; but it will not do. He has already sent for the commissary and the guard. Presently they arrive in their respective uniforms, and as the door is kept bolted a locksmith is also sent for. He comes, and before the application of his tools I inform Mr. Nesbitt of what has passed, and he comes out. He contends that they cannot take him, because he has not been duly summoned. But the officer produces a certificate that he has. And although this is certainly false, yet justice must believe its own instruments. He sets off for the bureau and I go and make interest for his release. Nesbitt is nevertheless dragged to l’Hôtel de Force and detained there sometime. “I go to the Comte de Puisignieu to supper. Hear that Lafayette is like to lose his election in Auvergne—a circumstance which gives great pleasure, I find, to some persons here. His conduct is much disapproved of, as indeed is naturally to be expected, by all those attached to the order of nobility. I believe he has mixed a little too deep, for I am very much mistaken if he is not, without knowing it himself, a much greater aristocrat than those of the party opposed to him. In effect, as the constitution of this country must inevitably undergo some change which will lessen the monarchical power, it is clear that unless the nobles acquire a constitutional sanction to some of their privileges, it will be in the power of the ministry afterwards to confound them entirely with the people, (according to the strange doctrine supported by the Duke of Orleans) and the result must be either a tyranny of one in the first instance or as a consequence of the anarchy which would result from giving the wretched constitution of the Pennsylvania legislature to the Kingdom of France.”
As to the distress among the paupers of Paris during this spring, Morris, who fearlessly and harmlessly walked or drove through every part of the town, observing closely as he went, wrote to his brother, General Morris, then in England, as follows:
“I believe your apprehensions of the sufferings of people here from cold are not unfounded. But they have in that respect an advantage which you did not think of; viz., that they are stowed so close, and in such little cabins, that if they live through the first few months they have an atmosphere of their own about them. In effect, none of the beggars I have seen complain to me of cold. They all ask for the means to get a morsel of bread, and show by their countenance that by bread they mean wine. And if the vintners were to interpret this last word, the poor devils would find that it means a very different kind of liquor. Among the objects which present themselves, doubtless some are deserving of charity, but these are scarcely to be noticed in the crowd of pretenders. However, they get from me all my small change, and I must confess, to my shame, that I give rather for peace’ sake than through benevolence. The rascals have, I suppose, found out by studying human nature that each man loves himself better than his neighbor, and therefore make it his interest to give. The rich, in return, as patrons of industry, are vastly inattentive to these importunities, and by withholding their alms try to make it the interest of the others to work rather than to beg. The effects of habit on each are wonderful. Not long since I saw a gentleman of my acquaintance weep at an air of an opera, who had heard a beggar clatter his crutches in pursuit of him for the length of a street without turning round to look at him. ‘Tis true there is a difference in the music.
“You are right in your idea that our contest has given a confused notion of liberty to this country, but there are many persons here whose views are very clear and distinct. It is highly probable that a constitution will be established, as free as is consistent with their manners and situation; in which case the King will gain more abroad than he loses at home, if, indeed, it can be called a loss to part with the power of doing mischief and retain only the power of doing good. If the indisposition of the King of England should keep their politics a little more at home, the nation will be much happier. That preponderance which Britain had gained during the peace, from the circumstances in which other nations found themselves, and which has led to a very dictatorial conduct that by those same circumstances became successful, would, I fear, have soon set the world again on fire, and it is ten to one that her own feathers would have been singed in the general combustion.”
“At supper to-night [March 17th] in the salon of the Baron de Besenval,”* the diary mentions, “M. le Comte de Puisignieu, who has an estate in St. Dominique, asks me to speak to M. de Malesherbes on the commerce of the Islands. This apropos of the letter written some years before on this subject to the Marquis de Chastellux. I tell him that I have no wit to talk with their ministers on public affairs, but if he chooses to ask my ideas it will be my duty to give them, after his very particular attention to me. In effect, I had rather leave our affairs in the hands of our Minister, and give him my ideas.”
From this time Morris became deeply engaged in large affairs of public interest to America and France. In a long conversation on the 18th of March with William Short, Secretary of the United States Legation under Jefferson, speculations in American bonds and the purchase of the debt of the United States to France, were discussed at length, and Morris expressed himself willing to take an interest for himself and his friends, in speculations of this kind “which are well founded—provided always there be nothing in them prejudicial to the United States or inconsistent with personal honor or integrity.” Dining with M. de Malesherbes the evening of this same day, he hinted to him “the idea of supplying the garrison in the French Islands from America and of furnishing salt beef to the fleet.” Certainly Morris found no difficulty in filling the days with work and society duties, if paying thirteen calls on various ladies, besides having long conversations on the Nesbitt affair with Parker, on the purchase of the debt to France with M. Le Coulteux* the banker, a pleasant hour of gossip with Madame de Chastellux, and ending the day with a supper at Madame de Corney’s, “when we have some good music,” meant anything.
“Colonel Laumoy breakfasts with me to-day,” he says in his diary for March 21st, and we go together to Versailles, invite ourselves to dine with the Count d’Angivilliers, and look at the apartments in the Castle of Versailles. This is an immense monument of the vanity and folly of Louis Fourteenth. We see neither the King nor the Queen, but as we come not to look for them this is no misfortune. Like the other hangers on of the Court, we desire not them, but theirs—with this difference, however, that we mean to gratify curiosity, not cupidity. The King is well lodged—the Queen’s apartments I cannot see because Her Majesty is there, but it is ten to one that I should like her better than any other part of the furniture. Her picture, however, by Madame Lebrun, will do as well, and perhaps better, for it is very beautiful, doubtless as much so as the original.”
It was at Versailles in the salon of Madame Cabanis, wife of the celebrated physiologist and physician, Pierre Jean George Cabanis, the personal friend of Mirabeau, and the ami de la maison of Condorcet, that Morris first met Madame de Flahaut, the romance writer, the friend of Montesquiou and of the Bishop of Autun. She was at this time in the glory of her youth and attractions, with possibly a touch of sadness about her and certainly a rare sympathy, which, added to her thoroughly trained mind, with its decidedly philosophical cast, gave her an uncommon power over men. Hers had been a strange life. Married at fifteen to the Comte de Flahaut, then quite fifty—who had denied himself no excess of dissipation—she found herself coldly neglected. The Abbé Périgord, who had performed the marriage ceremony for her, became her friend, companion, and instructor—for to him she owed the opening and training of her intellect—and he became also the father of her only child, who was named Charles, after the abbé. But to return to the diary. “Madame de Flahaut,” Morris says, “entered the room with her sister Madame d’Angivilliers, the wife of M. Bellarderie d’Angivilliers, Director-General of the Navy. She speaks English and is a pleasing woman; if I might judge from appearances, not a sworn enemy to intrigue.” Madame Adèle de Flahaut, during the dark days of the Revolution, received many substantial proofs of friendship from Morris. She was destined to fly for her life and to be made a widow by the guillotine in 1793.
Those were pleasant days and evenings in the grand salons of the Palais Royal, and the lesser ones of Paris generally, before the Terror came. A change had undoubtedly come since the time of Louis ⅩⅤ. There was no longer dancing, and fewer love-making couples scattered about the room; large groups of people came together for more general conversation. The gaming table was always to be found, where one woman and an abbé tried their luck with the dice-box; while someone reading a book by the window was not an uncommon sight. “The society was there,” Goncourt says, “but not the pleasure of the salons of the time of Louis Fifteenth.” But the ladies had not, as yet, lost their spirits by reason of the sorrows that came later, and their natural grace of manner and mind lent a charm to their conversation that nothing else could give. Morris surely counted himself born under a fortunate star to be the favored guest of such as they. In the boudoir of the lovely Madame de Duras-Dufurt, the friend of Madame de Staël and an authoress, he was one evening wholly charmed by the surroundings. “For the first time,” he says, “I have an idea of the music which may be drawn from the harp. In the boudoir of madame, adjoining the salon, I have the pleasure to sit for an hour alone by a light exactly resembling twilight, the temperature of the air brought to perfect mildness—and the sweetest sounds. Later in the evening came a change of scene, and a bishop from Languedoc makes tea and the ladies who choose it stand round and take each their dish. This would seem strange in America, and yet it is by no means more so than the Chevalier de Louis who begged alms of me this morning after introducing himself by his own letter.” Going to Madame de Chastellux’s one evening (March 25th) Morris found himself among the noblesse, and in a few moments after the Duchess of Orleans appeared. “The duchess,” he says, “is affable and handsome enough to punish the duke for his irregularities. Madame de Ségur goes away early, as the company seem determined to increase. The widow of the late Duke of Orleans comes in, and at going away, according to custom, kisses the duchess. I observe that the ladies of Paris are very fond of each other, which gives room to some observations from her Royal Highness on the person who has just quitted the room, which show that the kiss does not always betoken great affection. In going away she is pleased to say that she is glad to have met me, and I believe her. The reason is that I dropped some expressions and sentiments a little rough, and which were agreeable because they contrast with the palling polish she constantly meets with everywhere. Hence I conclude that the less I have the honor of such good company the better, for when the novelty ceases all is over, and I shall probably be worse than insipid. Everybody complains of the weather and yet the weather don’t mend. It could not be worse if we praised it.”
The diary notes that “on Friday [March 27th] the Maréchal de Castries calls and takes me to dine with M. and Madame Necker.* In the salon we find Madame de Staël. She seems to be a woman of sense and somewhat masculine in her character, but has very much the appearance of a chambermaid. A little before dinner M. Necker enters. He has the look and manner of the counting-house, and, being dressed in embroidered velvet, he contrasts strongly with his habiliments. His bow, his address, etc., say, ‘I am the man.’ Our company is one half Academicians. The Duchess of Biron, formerly Lauzun, is one. I observe that M. Necker seems occupied by ideas whch rather distress him. He cannot, I think, stay in office half an hour after the nation insist on keeping him there. He is much harassed and madame receives continually mémoires from different people, so that she seems as much occupied as he is. If he is a really great man I am deceived, and yet this is a rash judgment; but how can one help forming some judgment? If he is not a laborious man I am also deceived. From dinner I visit Madame de Chastellux. After being there some time the Duchess of Orleans enters. We have a trio for half an hour. She has something or the other which weighs heavy at her heart, perhaps the ‘besoin d’être aimée,’ that ‘painful void left aching in the breast.’ I make an apology for her husband’s wildness, by advising her to breed her son, M. de Beaujolais, to business, because otherwise at five and twenty, having enjoyed all which rank and fortune can give him, he will be unhappy from not knowing what to do with himself. She repeats that she is very glad to see me there. This is very kind, but I do not exactly know what it means.”
After a pleasant hour with the duchess and Madame de Chastellux, a supper with the Baron de Besenval claimed attention. “A large party,” he says, “and his reputed son, the Vicomte de Ségur, is one of the number, and if resemblances and caresses may be taken for evidence of the fact it must be admitted. This young man is the Lovelace of his day and as remarkable for seductions as his father. He does not want for understanding. The tone of the society here seems to be that it was not worth while to call the States-General for such a trifle as the deficit amounts to. The business of M. Necker therefore stands thus: If any mischiefs happen they will be charged to him. If he gets well through the business others will claim the reputation of what good is done by the States-General. He loves flattery—for he flatters; he is therefore easily deceived. He believes that many persons support him out of esteem, who I believe only use him, and will throw by the instrument when it can no longer serve their purpose. Necker is in blast till May, but will probably blow out unless further means can be devised. The Caisse d’Escompte is full of ‘effets royaux’ (royal bills). Consequently both the means and the inclination to afford succor are wanting.”
Not yet entirely used to the manners and customs of Paris, “I find,” Morris says, “that I have been guilty of a bêtise in answering a note of Madame de Corney by one addressed to monsieur. Although it was signed De Corney, I ought to have understood better ‘the marks of the crow-quill.’ Dine [March 30th] with Marshal de Castries.* Hint an idea to him respecting the debt and express a wish to converse with him on the subject. He appoints to-morrow. Call on Madame de Chastellux. After some time Madame de Ségur comes in. Her visit is short, being engaged for the evening. After she has left us for a while the Duchesse d’Orléans enters. A look from her Royal Highness opens the idea that M. Morris est un peu amoureux de Madame la Marquise, but Madame la Duchesse is mistaken. However, this mistake can do no harm to anybody. The Vicomte de Ségur comes in and a look which he takes great pains to conceal tells me that he believes I am inclined to take his advice of the other day, viz., to have an affair with the widow, and it tells me also that he means to console her for the loss of her husband. From thence I go to Madame de Flahaut’s, an elegant woman, and a snug party. She is by no means deficient in understanding, and has, I think, good dispositions. Nous verrons.”
In a long conversation on April 1st, which was solicited by the Maréchal de Castries, Morris stated his ideas with regard to the value of the debt from America to France, and proposed to purchase it with tobacco, flour, rice, and salt provisions—part payment to be made with money, and part with the debt. But the Marshal objected to the salt provisions because they must encourage this commerce with Ireland, the Irish buying large quantities of Bordeaux wine. “He thinks,” Morris says, “the tobacco may do, objects to the flour, and says nothing about the rice, and thinks, on the whole, that the payment of the debt is of trifling importance in comparison with the greater object of French commerce. M. Necker will, on the contrary, I presume, be of opinion that the payment of the debt is of the utmost importance.” Morris, however, was to submit his ideas on paper that the marshal might further consider them.
M. de Lafayette had, in spite of Morris’s fears to the contrary, just secured his election for his province in Auvergne, and on the second of April Morris called on Madame de Lafayette to congratulate her on the result, and talk a little politics. From there to Madame de Chastellux’s, where Madame Rully, “another of the Duchesse d’Orléans’s women of honor, comes in, and with very fine eyes which she knows very well how to make use of. Has no antipathy to the gentler passion. Nous verrons. Madame ——, sister to the late M. de Chastellux, joins us, and after some time the Duchess of Orleans. She complains of a headache, but is, I think, rather out of temper than in ill-health. M. Morris seems to me not to be such agreeable company as before. Take leave and go to supper with Madame de Corney. After a little while Madame de Flahaut enters. Presently, M. de Corney.* He has in vain contested for the rights of the Prévôté of Paris. Reads us his speech. M. Necker is blamed, and the company do not appear inclined to mercy on his subject. I had learnt at Madame de Chastellux’s that the King has received an express that M. de Calonne is at Douay, and will probably be elected a member of the States-General. This intelligence is not disagreeable to the company here. M. de Corney tells me he did everything in his power for Nesbitt, but the bureau of M. DeVille Delville are violently prejudiced against him. This Nesbitt ought to have known, for in his affair he met a beautiful woman, the sister or cousin of his creditor, and in the second affair M. le Secrétaire treated him with the utmost politeness and showed no doubt of the success of his application, etc., whereas at Versailles I found very great obstacles. Thus a little negligence has involved him in a manner which I shall find very difficult to extricate him from. At going away Madame de Corney tells me, ‘Et bien, je vous ai fait souper avec Madame de Flahaut, ne suis-je pas une bonne femme?’ ‘Oui, Madame.’ The rest of my compliment is conveyed by pressing her hand and a look of reconnaissance.”
“I go [April 3d] to keep an engagement with Madame de Flahaut, to see the statues, paintings etc., of the Louvre. She is in bed and her brother-in-law is sitting with her. So it appears she has, as she says, forgotten her engagement to me. M. de Flahaut comes in. She sends us forward, and is to follow. This is done. We walk over the court of the Louvre, through the mud, view the statues—the paintings we cannot see, that pleasure is for another opportunity. Return to her quarters. Monsieur, presuming that I was about to follow her upstairs merely out of politeness, apologizes for me. In consequence I take my leave, and thus a scene, which my imagination had painted very well, turns out good for nothing. The weather contributes to render it disagreeable— wind, rain, and, of course mud without, and dampness within. But this is human life. Monsieur, as I go away, expresses a hope to see me again soon, and requests to be commanded if he can be useful in anything. This politesse is always agreeable, though a man must be a fool to believe in it.
“This is a day of accidents. In going from hence I slip as I step into the carriage, and bruise my shin very much. Thus everything goes wrong. Visit the Comtesse Durfort. She has company and is but just risen. Pressed to dine, but decline it. She is going to sup with the Baron de Besenval, and I promise to be there if I can. She says if I do not go, it is because I will not. ‘On peut tout ce qu’on veut.’ Stammer out a bald compliment in reply. I am certainly good for nothing, and the only tolerable thing I can do is to go home. This is done, and, being out of humor with myself, I find the dinner very bad. Threaten to deal with another waiter—extremely ridiculous. The waiter, who behaves with great humility, must, I think, despise me for talking angrily before I can talk French. At five o’clock I visit Madame de Ségur. Madame de Chastellux and Madame de Puisignieu are there. In conversing about public men and measures I am so weak and absurd as to express many opinions which I ought to conceal, and some of which I may perhaps find reason to alter. Two ladies come in, and as I am going away Madame de Ségur, to whom I had mentioned my intention of visiting Mr. Jefferson, has the politeness to say, ‘Nous vous reverrons, M. Morris?’ and I have the stupidity to answer in the affirmative. Call on Mr. Jefferson, and sit an hour with him, which is at least fifty minutes too long, for his daughter had left the room on my approach, and waits only my departure, at least I think so. Returning in consistency with my promise, I call on Madame de Ségur, and am shown into the room where she is with her father-in-law. He lies on a couch, or rather sofa—the gout in his right hand, which is his only hand. Madame de Chastellux and another lady are there. I think I was wrong to come here, and for that reason find it difficult to get away—vastly awkward. At length make a shift to take leave, and, to avoid all further folly for this day, determine to go home.”
[*]Éléonor-François, the Marquis de Moustier, arrived in America as minister from France at the close of the year 1787. He was rich and close though lavish in display, and showed less tact in dealing with Americans than his predecessors had done, and was consequently less liked. His sister, Madame de Bréhan, with her son, accompanied him to this country. A letter from John Armstrong to General Gates says of Moustier: “We have a French minister here with us, and if France had wished to destroy the little remembrance that is left of her, and her exertions in our behalf, she would have sent just such a minister. Distant, haughty, punctilious, and entirely governed by the caprices of a little singular, whimsical, hysterical old woman whose delight is in playing with a negro child and caressing a monkey.” M. de Moustier illuminated his house (in Broadway, near the Bowling Green) splendidly in honor of Washington’s inauguration, and gave a grand ball to the President and his suite.
[*]Dulaure: Histoire de Paris
[*]Dulaure: Histoire de Paris.
[*]The Duchess of Orleans, wife of the Duke of Orleans, cousin to Louis ⅩⅥ., daughter of the Duc de Penthièvre and sister-in-law of the unfortunate Princesse de Lamballe.
[*]Saint Hérène de Montmorin became Minister of the Interior in 1791. He was condemned by the Revolutionary Tribunal, and executed in September, 1792.
[*]Chrétien Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, a judge, philanthropist, and man of letters. In 1775 appointed Minister of the King’s Household and of the Police; resigned in 1776. In 1792, when the king was arraigned by the Convention, Malesherbes offered his services, which were accepted, but his act was resensed by the Terrorists, and he fell a victim to the guillotine.
[*]Count Arthur Dillon, a French general, chosen a deputy to the States-General in 1789. Later he served under Dumouriez, but was disaffected toward the new régime and was recalled in 1793, imprisoned, and perished on the guillotine in 1794.
[*]Baron de Besenval, lieutenant of the Swiss. The women, owing to his gray hairs, had great confidence in him. He was considered the best raconteur in the salon of Madame Jules de Polignac. He was tried for his life on the charge of being an aristocrat and trying to fly from France, but was acquitted in March, 1790.
[*]The firm of Le Coulteux de Cantaleu, bankers, of Rouen, was of great antiquity even in the time of Louis Fourteenth, who, desirous of encouraging commerce and breaking down the barriers which prejudice had raised against it, offered to give the members of the firm letters of nobility. They refused the offer, saying that they preferred the reputation of old merchants to that of new nobles, and would rather be at the head of one class than at the tail of the other.
[*]Jacques Necker, Prime Minister of France, was a native of Switzerland. The first public exposition of the revenue and expenses of the State was made by him in his famous compte rendu published in 1781 and which was received with great favor; but, later, his reforms made for him many enemies at Court and elsewhere. He succeeded Brienne as Prime Minister or Comptroller of Finances about September 1, 1788. He favored the Revolution by granting to the Tiers État a double number of deputies. On the 11th of July, 1789, he was suddenly dismissed, but was recalled on the 21st of July, and remained in office until September, 1790, when, becoming convinced that he was too conservative to satisfy the popular party, he resigned, and passed the rest of his life at Coppet.
[*]The Maréchal de Castries, an able general of France, was Governor-General of Flanders at one time and afterward Minister of Marine. His hotel was among the first destroyed in Paris by the Revolutionists in 1789. He emigrated and found an asylum with the Duke of Brunswick.
[*]M. de Corney, procureur de la ville.