« IndietroContinua »
ly ruin of so many more, was necessarily detrimental to its social refinement. It was taking away the high-toned dignity of the landed proprietors, and substituting in its place the restless aspirations of men who had to make their fortunes and position, and get forward in life. Society lost, therefore, much of its ease and gracefulness. Mrs. Grant, to whose work we have already alluded, who in her youth had seen New York society as far back as 1760, and lived to know what it was after the peace, thus speaks of the change: "Mildness of manners, refinement of mind, and all the softer virtues that spring up in the cultivated paths of social life, nurtured by generous affections, were undoubtedly to be found in the unhappy loyalists. Certainly, however necessary the ruling powers might find it to carry their system of exile into execution, it has occasioned to the country an irreparable privation. What the loss of the Huguenots was to commerce and manufactures in France, that of the loyalists was to religion, literature, and amenity in America. The silken threads were drawn out of the mixed web of society, which has ever since been comparatively coarse and homely." *
This is somewhat of an exaggeration. The tone of society was, indeed, impaired, but not lost. There were still enough of the old families remaining to give it dignity, at least for another generation. The community could not suddenly become democratic, or throw off all its old associations and habits of reverence. As a writer on that day says, people were "habituated to take off their hats to gentlemen who were got up regardless of expense, and who rode about in chariots drawn by four horses." It took a long while for the community to learn to act on the maxim that "all men are created equal." Not, indeed, until those were swept away who had lived in the days of the Revolution, did this downward tendency become very evident. Simultaneously, too, with their departure came a set of the nouveaux riches, which the "American Lady," p. 330.
growing facilities of New York for making commercial fortunes brought forward, and thus, by degrees, was ushered in-the age of gaudy wealth.
The final blow, indeed, to this stately old society was given by the French Revolution. We know how every thing dignified in society was then swept away in the wild fury of democracy, but the present generation cannot conceive of the intense feeling which that event produced in our own country. France had been our old ally, England our old foe. We must side with the former in her struggles against tyranny. It became a political test. The Republicans adopted it, and insensibly there seemed to grow up the idea that refinement and courtesy in life were at variance with the true party-spirit. In this way democratic rudeness crept into social life, and took the place of the aristocratic element of former days. Gradually it went down into the lower strata of society, till all that reverence which once characterized it was gone.
The manners of an individual at last became an evidence of his political views. Goodrich, in his "Recollections," speaking on this very point, gives an amusing instance of it. A clergyman in Connecticut, who was noted for his wit, riding along one summer day, came to a brook, where he paused to let his horse drink. Just then a stranger rode into the stream from the opposite direction, and, as his horse began to drink also, the two men were brought face to face.
"How are you, priest?" said the stranger.
"How are you, democrat?" inquired the parson.
"How do you know I am a democrat?" said one.
"How do you know I am a priest?" said the other.
"I know you to be a priest by your dress," said the stranger.
"And I know you to be a democrat by your address," said the parson.
Even the dress was made the exponent of party views, as much as it had been by the Cavaliers and Puritans of
England. As republican principles gained ground, large wigs and powder, cocked hats, breeches and shoe-buckles, were replaced by short hair, pantaloons, and shoe-strings. It is said that the Marquis de Brézé, master of ceremonies at Versailles, nearly died of fright at the first pair of shoes, divested of buckles, which he saw on the feet of a revolutionary minister ascending the stairs to a royal levée. He rushed over to Dumouriez, then Minister of War. "He is actually entering," exclaimed the Marquis, "with ribbons in his shoes!" Dumouriez, himself one of the incendiaries of the Revolution, solemnly said, "Tout est fini!"—"The game is up; the monarchy is gone." And so it was. This was only one of the signs of the times. Buckles and kings were extinguished together.
Such being the feelings of the sans culottes in France, the favorers of Jacobinism in this country were not slow to imitate them. Jefferson eschewed breeches and wore pantaloons. He adopted leather strings in his shoes instead of buckles, and his admirers trumpeted it as a proof of democratic simplicity. Washington rode to the capitol in a carriage drawn by four creamcolored horses with servants in livery. All this his successor gave up, and even abolished the President's levées, the latter of which were afterwards restored by Mrs. Madison. Thus the dress, which had for generations been the sign and symbol of a gentleman, gradually waned away, till society reached that charming state of equality in which it became impossible, by any outward costume, to distinguish masters from servants. John Jay says, in one of his letters, that with small-clothes and buckles the high tone of society departed.
In the writer's early day this system of the past was just going out. Wigs and powder and queues, breeches and buckles, still lingered among the older gentlemen-vestiges of an age which was just vanishing away. But the hightoned feeling of the last century was still in the ascendant, and had not yet succumbed to the worship of mammon
which characterizes this age. was still in New York a reverence for the colonial families, and the prominent political men-like Duane, Clinton, Colden, Radcliff, Hoffman, and Livingston-were generally gentlemen by birth and social standing. The time had not yet come when this was to be an objection to an individual in a political career. The leaders were men whose names were historical in the State, and they influenced society. The old families still formed an association among themselves, and intermarried one generation after another. Society was, therefore, very restricted. The writer remembers, in his childhood, when he went out with his father for his usual afternoon drive, he knew every carriage they met on the avenues.
The gentlemen of that day knew each other well, for they had grown up together, and their associations in the past were the same. Yet, what friendships for after-life did these associations form! How different this from the intimacy between Mr. Smith and Mr. Thompson, when they knew nothing of each other's antecedents, have no subjects in common but the money-market, and never heard of each other until the last year, when some lucky speculation in stocks raised them from their "low estate," and enabled them to purchase houses "up-town," and set up their carriages!
There was, in that day, none of the show and glitter of modern times; but there was, with many of these families, particularly with those who had retained their landed estates, and were still living in their old family-homes, an elegance which has never been rivalled in other parts of the country. In his early days, the writer has been much at the South; has stayed at Mount Vernon, when it was yet held by the Washingtons; with Lord Fairfax's family at Ashgrove and Vancluse; with the Lees in Virginia, and with the aristocratic planters of South Carolina; but he has never elsewhere seen such elegance of living as was formerly exhibited by the old families of New York.
Gentlemen then were great dinersout. Their associations naturally led to this kind of intimacy, when almost the same set constantly met together. Giving dinners was then a science, and a gentleman took as much pride in the excellence of his wine-cellar as, he did in his equipage or his library. This had its evils, it is true, and led to long sittings over the table, and an excess of conviviality which modern customs have fortunately corrected.
There was a punctiliousness, too, in their intercourse, even among the most intimate, which formed a strange contrast to the familiarity of modern society. Gentlemen were guarded in what they said to each other, for those were duelling-days, and a hasty speech had to be atoned for at Hoboken. Stories are still handed down of disputes at the dinner-table which led to hostile meetings, but which, in our day, would not have been remembered next morning. In an obituary-sketch of one of this set, published at his death twentyfive years ago, when speaking of the high tone which then characterized society, the writer said: "Perhaps the liability, which then existed, of being held personally answerable for their words, false as the principle may have been, produced a courtesy not known in these days."
One thing is certain-that there was a high tone prevailing at that time, which is now nowhere seen. The community then looked up to the public men with a degree of reverence which has never been felt for those who succeeded them. They were the last of a race which does not now exist. With them died the stateliness of colonial times. Wealth came in and created a social distinction which took the place of family, and thus society became vulgarized.
Since this year began we have witnessed the departure of one-Gulian C. Verplanck-who was, perhaps, the last prominent member of the generation which has gone. Where can we point to any one of those now living, like him, surrounded by the elevating asso
ciations of the past, distinguished in public life, and a ripe scholar in literature and theology? The old historical names of Jay and Duer and Hoffman, and a few more of colonial times, are still upheld among us by their sons, who are showing, in the third generation, the high talents of those who had gone before them; "but what are they among so many!"
"Rari nantes in gurgite vasto."
The influences of the past are fast vanishing away, and our children will look only to the shadowy future. The very rule by which we estimate individuals has been entirely altered. The inquiry once was, "Who is he?" Men now ask the question, "Hów much is he worth?" Have we gained by the change?
Is it strange that the writer answers in himself that description in Horace-แ "Laudator acti temporis, me puero?" As years gather round him; and the shadows deepen in his path, he instinctively turns more and more from the "living Present" to commune with the "dead Past." Many, however, to whom he has referred in these pages, will be to most of his readers only names, while to him they are realities-living and breathing men; and, as he thinks of them, he believes there is no delusion in the conviction that, for elegance and refinement, for all the graces which elevate and ennoble life, they have left no successors. The outward pressure is now too democratic. Most of the prominent men, also, of the present day, want the associations of the past.
As Edward IV. stood on the tower of Warwick Castle, and saw marching through the park below him the mighty host of retainers who, at the summons of the great Earl of Warwick, had gathered round him, and then thought how powerless, in comparison, were the new nobles with whom he had attempted to surround his throne, he is said to have muttered to himself, "After all, you cannot make a great baron out of a new lord!" And so we would say, You cannot make out of the new mil
lionaire what was exhibited by the gentlemen of our old colonial families!
Commerce, indeed, is fast taking the place of the true old chivalry with all its high associations. It is impossible, in this country, for St. Germain to hold its own against the Bourse. Moneygetting is the great object of life in this practical age, and, every month, the words which Halleck wrote so
many years ago are becoming more
These are not romantic times
So dazzling to the dreaming boy;
CRABBED AGE AND YOUTH.
OUT, out, Old Age! aroint ye!
Nor wrinkled grow and learned
Ruthless the hours, and hoary,
That scatter ills before ye!
Thy lays are penitential;
With stealthy steps thou stealest,
And life's warm tide congealest;
We are already dying.
Why must the blood grow colder,
To make us blight and wither.
I would that altogether,
From this thy wintry weather,
Since Youth and Love must leave us, Death might at once retrieve us.
Old wizard, ill betide ye!
I cannot yet abide ye!
Ah, Youth, sweet Youth, I love ye!
Soft words to thee are spoken,
For ye alone the motion
Of brave ships on the ocean;
All stars for ye are shining,
All wreaths your foreheads twining;
So he be waxen olden.
Ah, winsome Youth, stay by us:
I prithee, do not fly us!
Ah, Youth, sweet Youth, I love ye! There's naught on earth above ye!