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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

The British Have Come!

New York, October 15, '60.

We have had such a busy week of political demonstrations and of celebrations in honor of the Prince of Wales [later to become King Edward VII] that I really don't know where to begin.

Before the arrival of the noble heir to the crown of England, the city was set astir with processions every day. One day it was the Republicans who paraded their 12,000 "wide-awakes" (a veritable army, uniformed in red oilcloth)/ They carried large torches and American flags, as well as huge banners with their professions of faith. These men went through the streets shouting in favor of their candidates. The crowd answered, according to its convictions, either with hurrahs or with curses, which sometimes led to private scuffles of no consequence. These men, with their scarlet uniforms and torches, looked like demons just come up from hell.

The next day, the partisans of the Union Ticket, [John] Bell and [Edward] Everett, made a counterdemonstration with colored torches and bands. Another evening, a large group of 60,000 persons gathered for a demonstration around Cooper Institute.

But politics had to come to a halt in the presence of the Prince of Wales, and the most enthusiastic partisans of the most divergent opinions called a truce to their internal discussions in order to celebrate his arrival.

Imagine all the ships in the port and in the bay adorned with flags, the whole army and militia in full dress passing in review, and then following the Prince's carriage, and a throng of a million[!] people crowding at the windows and in all the streets along his route. The poor people waited uncomplainingly from ten and eleven o'clock in the morning until seven at night, because the military review greatly delayed the procession. When he did arrive, it was night and impossible to see anything, but you should have heard the frantic hurrahs of those fine republicans who greeted that royal scion with more enthusiasm than they would have shown for a liberator of their country. Lord Newcastle said to one of the members of the reception committee, Mr. Belmont: "I have never sitnessed such a scene in my life and never wish to witness any which could diminish the impression this one has made upon me."

Indeed, there was nothing more beautiful than this popular reception where the spontaneity of feeling was itself worth all the money that the celebration cost. But, at the same time, what a lesson it teaches the politicians of this country, who dispute with each other over power, and who offer to the people nothing but the sight of their careless dress and their untrimmed beards! This country is too much in love with great names, big titles, decorations--in a word, with everything that glitters--to be able to keep its democratic government for very long, and I am becoming more and more confirmed in my opinion that within fifteen or twenty years, as I have told you several times, America will be divided, and that the different parts of this large country will each be governed by a man who will be a king, an emperor, or a president. The name won't matter, either, because in reality he will be a dictator, and if he gives celebrations, if he introduces an aristocracy into America, he will be adored, for here, as everywhere else, there are two quite distinct classes, one that loves to see, the other that loves to be seen.

Right now the first class can find only an occasional foreign prince or some Japanese ambassador to satisfy its fancy; the other class, to its great regret, has nothing to show. The taste for pomp quickly invades this country, and those who will see the country again within ten years will find it quite changed.

All the horses drawing the coach of the Prince of Wales and those used by him and his retinue in the procession belonged to the leading men of the city. In the procession, the prince rode a charming little mare owned by Mrs. Belmont.

I'll skip the next two days, which were spent by His Highness in visiting New York, and by the people in looking at him, following him, and hurrahing him!

The grand ball, given in the Academy of Music by 400 subscribers each of whom contributed $100, took place on Friday night. Three thousand persons were invited...There were a great many tricks used to get tickets. I must confess that those in attendance were well-known people who behaved admirably. Some of the ladies wore dresses of unparalleled elegance and costliness, and marvelously beautiful jewels. But what must have struck the young prince more than anything else (despite his mother's warning against raising his eyes to the fair sex) is the great number of pretty ladies that had assembled. Indeed, never in my life have I seen any similar collection.

The supper was splendid and was served in a specially built hall to which only three or four hundred persons were admitted at a time. The service was admirable, with almost one servant for each guest.

Everyone was already there when the Prince arrived. The hall, fully decked with flowers, offered the most engaging sight. The orchestra section was full of people, and the boxes overflowed with pretty women in splendid dresses. The orchestra began to play "God Save the Queen" and then "Hail Columbia." The last note had scarcely died away when the orchestra section broke down under the weight of the large number of people crowded there...

Here I must give credit to the American women. Not one stirred; after the first cry, not a further word was heard. A panic would have caused the greatest disaster, but perfect order prevailed during the clearing away of the debris, and the only injuries were some sprained ankles, a few torn dresses, and one woman who fainted but soon came to. A long hour and a half was spent in repairing the damage done to the floor. This threw some cold water on the entire celebration.

At midnight the Prince opened the ball, dancing with Mrs. Morgan, the wife of the governor. He kept on dancing until 3:30 a.m. His dancing partners were chosen from among the most elegant matrons and maids of the ball, Mrs. Belmont being among them.

But the most beautiful spectacle presented to the Prince took place on Saturday night: the firemen torchlight procession. This is a specialty of the country, and one of the most beautiful things I have seen. I was opposite the Prince's hotel, so that I could see everything in detail. All the firemen corps not on duty were there. 6,000 men in grand costume: black helmets with copper ornaments, scarlet flannel shirts, black flannel trousers, and white belts. They marched by companies, preceded by a band. Each fireman carried a torch, and they pulled their fire engines. One who has not been in America doesn't know what a fire engine is, with all its accessories. there are fire engines of all shapes and sizes, some of them of colossal size. Some are drawn by men, others by horses, and still others by steam. To the fireman, the fire engine is the most important thing in the world. It is dearer to him than his family. He spends everything he can to adorn it with jewels, paintings, ornaments in gold and silver. Judge what he must do on an occasion like this, trying to make his true mistress be more beautiful than those of the others.

So these magnificent machines were covered with Venetian lamps, flowers, flags, and torches. Some of them were lit with Bengal fires, or with electric or gas lighting. When they passed by the Prince's balcony, each fireman shot off fireworks which lit up a great way off the immense streams of people crowded together for this splendid spectacle. After the procession was over, the various companies scattered through the city, which seemed to be lit up as though at midday...