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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

Codgers at War and Brothers in Arms


The convention at Baltimore is still in progress but so far has gotten nowhere, and animosity between the Northern and Southern delegates is on the increase. These gentlemen take advantage of intermissions at the sessions to take a poke at each other, which produces the most shameful scenes.

Here's an incident that took place, in passing: The Union Club is made up mostly of old codgers, among whom are two gentlemen whose ages total 150: Messrs. Niel and Boyant, very respectable otherwise and very rich. They had begun a political discussion on [the Italian leader, Guiseppe] Garibaldi. One of the men claimed he was an Italian; the other said he was of Scotch origin. After the most persuasive arguments, Mr. Boyant supported his logic with a terrific punch which, be a fatal coincidence, hit Mr. Niel on the nose. This nose, which is quite long, met the finger and got angry. Then its owner, undertaking its defense, fell upon his interlocutor with might and main, and the battle was begun with punches. When the two enraged septuagenarians had been separated, they went off, pistols in hand, to Norfolk to settle their quarrel. Mr. Niel received a bullet wound in his arm, which makes him very proud...

Jamestown [New York] July 4, '60.

I shall tell you some more about the Japanese. I must talk about them just once more, and I swear to you it will be the last time. Besides, those noble barbarians have, thank heaven, retaken the road to their penates, the Americans having told them that they [the Americans] are the greatest nation in the world and taking good care not to let them visit Europe, or even the "Great Eastern" [a British steamship, then the largest in the world].

Before their departure, the City of New York and [August] Belmont each gave a celebration in their honor. The city celebration took place in the Metropolitan Hotel, which had been connected for the occasion with a large theatre called the Niblo. That could have been very nice, but they only succeeded in bringing in a filthy crowd...We were part of a large group of society people to go to this celebration, to which 12,000 persons had been invited...

After being amused for a long time by the shapes and the costumes of the guests, and with a certain amount of difficulty making our way through a solid mass of 3,000 persons, as we waited impatiently for several hours for the supper hall to open, we went to pay our respects to the Asiatic princes, who had not been embellished by their sojourn in New York. they were sitting on a platform, offering competition to the menagerie of Van Ambergh. In order to complete the similarity, there was a man standing by with a large staff in his hand, who, to judge by his figure and his clothes, could have passed for an exhibitor of bears. At the top of his lungs he kept yelling: "Pass on, gentlemen, pass on!"

When we wanted to leave, we were all separated by the crowd, and I wound up with two women in my arms. The fair sex loses all its luck in a crowd. I confess I considered myself extremely fortunate when, after an hour, I found myself in the street.

Belmont's party, which took place the following day, was one of perfect elegance. The Japanese spent their time eating and were greatly delighted by a liqueur from their country called soki [sake] which Commodore Perry had brought back. This beverage is very much like Athenian water...

Here [in Jamestown] I have been able to study the American character in a form completely new to me. Corruption has as yet not penetrated here, nor that false civilization which I could not endure in New York. Democratic and even uncouth ways are carried to the extreme. You dine at the same table and eat the same food as the workingman. A man in tatters will extend his hand to you and will be offended if you don't take it. You've got to put away your aristocratic thoughts if you still have any left. But these are good people, refined by work, always ready to be of assistance, who have the realization of their strength and their independence,. They are self-made men are are proud of it. From childhood on they have only one thought: "Go ahead." The coachman who drove my carriage was certainly no more than nine years old, and a tiny chap five years old, seeing me taking pictures, came and asked me seriously to employ him, saying that he would take two piasters a day. That's the way you go places. And as much as the corrupt people of the cities of the Union disgust me, so much to the people of the country arouse my admiration...

Today was the Fourth of July, a hallowed day in all the states of the Union, on which there are celebrations in every little village; the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. We were invited to go to Randolph [New York] to take part in the public celebrations and in a meal more cordial than appetizing. The toasts flew thick and fast, and I was not too well pleased when I heard my name pronounced, because I had to respond. But oh, pshaw! I swallowed my fear and I arose bravely.

After having expressed my thanks and my regrets that my slight familiarity with the English language did not permit me to answer properly, I told how I had been impressed with the greatness of the country, its strength, its power, its commerce, etc. etc. I was happy to be in their midst to celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. If their immortal glory lay in their accomplishing in a few years what it took others centuries to achieve, one of the most glorious pages in the history of us children of France was to have understood them and to have helped them gain their independence, of which they have since made such noble use.

Rochambeau, Lafayette, Franklin, Washington, were brothers [in the Revolution]. We on the other side of the Atlantic have cherished those sentiments of fraternity toward America, whose every new progress brings us the greatest joy. On arriving in this country, I had seen that this feeling was shared by the Americans. I hoped, therefore, that my dining-room companions would join me in the toast, "To an eternal friendship between France and America."

I had said enough when I finished, although the numerous knives noisily striking against the glasses and the table proved to me that my audience was satisfied...