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CHAPTER X
Many of the best types of purely American society could have been found in the forties in the towns of the country. Now everybody, high and low, rich and poor, seeks a home in the cities. It is not without reason that all classes should flock to the metropolis. There wealth can be enjoyed, poverty aided, talent appreciated; but there individual influence is almost lost. The temptation to self-assertion, repugnant as it is to refined feeling, is almost irresistible. Men and women must assert themselves or sink into oblivion. Nobody has time to climb the rickety stairs to find the genius in the attic. Nobody looks for the statesman among the serene adherents to the "Simple Life." Had Cincinnatus lived at this day, he would have ploughed to the end of his furrow. Nobody would have interrupted him.

The absence of all the hurry and fever of life made the little town of Charlottesville an ideal home before the cataclysm of 1861. The professors at the University could live, in the moderate age, upon their modest salaries, and have something to spare for entertaining. The village contingent was refined, amiable, and intelligent. Staunton sent us, every winter, her young ladies, the daughters of Judge Lucas Thompson, all of whom were finally absorbed 74by the descendants of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, Maryland. From the neighborhood on the Buck-mountain Road came the family of William C. Rives, twice our envoy to the Court of Versailles, and many times sent to the Senate of the United States. The "gallant Gordons, many a one," the Randolphs and Pages, and Mr. Stevenson, late Minister to England,—all these lived near enough to be neighbors and visitors. Across Moore's Creek, at the foot of Monticello, was the house of Mr. Alexander Rives. There lived my sweet friend and bridesmaid, Eliza Rives, and there I could call for a glass of lemonade when on my way to Monticello, guiding, as I often did, some stranger-guest to visit the home of Thomas Jefferson. We would pass through the straggling bushes of Scottish broom which bordered the road—planted originally by Mr. Jefferson himself—pause at the modest monument over his ashes, and reverently ponder the inscription thereon. In his own handwriting, among his papers, had been found the record he desired—not that he had been Minister to France and Secretary of State, not that he had been twice President of the United States, but simply,—

"Here lies buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia."

A few steps through the woods would bring us to the plateau commanding the noble view I have tried to describe. I loved the spot, the glorious mountains, the glimpse at our feet of the Greek temple 75in its sacred grove, the atmosphere of mystery and romance. Once I saw a solitary fleur-de-lis unfurling its imperial banner on the site of the abandoned garden. Once I was permitted, in the absence of the owner, to explore an upper floor in the villa, and was startled by a white, strained face gleaming out from a dim alcove. This was the bust of Voltaire. A happy, happy young girl was I on these rides, mounted on my own horse, Phil Duval, and not unconscious of my becoming green cloth habit, green velvet turban, and long green feather, fastened with a diamond buckle—as I believed it to be!

University of Virginia.

Young girls reared in a university town and admitted to the friendship of the professors' families must be dull indeed if they absorb nothing from the literary atmosphere. My dear aunt was an accomplished English scholar. Her father had been the friend and neighbor of Patrick Henry, her husband had been one of John Randolph's physicians. My close friends, the Gilmers, Southalls, and the daughters of Professor Harrison, all had brothers who were students, and we strove to keep pace with these fine young fellows and meet them on English ground at least.

We had no circulating library in Charlottesville, and depended upon the mails for our current literature. We saw Graham's Magazine from Philadelphia, the Home Journal from New York, the Southern Literary Messenger from Richmond. Dickens's novels reached us from London, issued then in monthly sections, and we impatiently awaited them. "Oh, Sara, have you been introduced to Mr. Toots?" 76wrote Maria Gordon; "he is so much in love with Florence Dombey, he 'feels as if somebody was a-settin' on him!'"

We liked Dickens better than Walter Scott. We found the remarks of Captain Clutterbuck and the Rev. Dryasdust hard to bear, barring the door to the enchanted palace until they had their say. To be sure, Dickens could be tiresome too, pausing in the middle of an exciting story while somebody—the "stroller" or the "bagman"—related something wholly irrelevant. To my mind, a story within a story was a nuisance. It was like a patch on a garment. The garment might be homespun and the patch satin, but it was a blemish, nevertheless, something put on to help a weak place. I skipped these stories then and skip them now!

As to Thackeray, I blush to say we did not appreciate him when he appeared as "Michael Angelo Titmarsh." But we all knew Becky! She was only a sublimated little Miss Betsy Stevens, a ragged mountain woman who sold peaches on a small commission, and who, like Becky, having "no mamma" or other asset, lived by her wits.

Perhaps in our estimation of Thackeray we were guided somewhat by his own countrymen. An English paper fell in our hands which was not at all respectful to "Chawls-Yellowplush-Angelo-Titmarsh-Jeames-William-Makepeace-Thackeray, Esquire of London Town in old England." Such ridicule would soon settle him! No man could survive it.

None of the visiting authors deigned to call on 77us,—Thackeray, Dickens, Miss Martineau,—all passed us by. True, Frederika Bremer condescended to spend a night with her compatriot, Mr. Schéle de Vere, en route to the South, where she was to find little to admire except bananas. Mr. Schéle invited a choice company to spend the one evening Miss Bremer granted him. Her novels were extremely popular with us. Every one was on tiptoe of pleased anticipation. While the waiting company eagerly expected her, the door opened—not for Miss Bremer, but her companion, who announced:—

"Miss Bremer, she beg excuse. She ver tired and must sleep! If she come, she gape in your noses!"

Alas for tourist's help in the translating books! "Face" and "nose," "gape" and "yawn," although not synonymic, bear at least a cousinly relation to each other.

The beautiful Christian custom of lighting a Christmas tree—bringing "the glory of Lebanon, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box," to hallow our festival—had not yet obtained in Virginia. We had heard much of the German Christmas tree, but had never seen one. Lizzie Gilmer, who was to marry a younger son of the house, was intimate with the Tuckers, and brought great reports of the preparation of the first Christmas tree ever seen in Virginia.

I had not yet been allowed to attend the parties of "grown-up" people, but our young friend John Randolph Tucker was coming of age on Christmas Eve, and great pressure was brought to bear upon 78my aunt to permit me to attend the birthday celebration. This was a memorable occasion. "Rare Ran Tucker" was a prime favorite with the older set, handsome, distingué, and already marked for the high place he attained later on the honor roll of his country.

My aunt could not persist in her rules for me, and I was permitted, provided I went as "a little girl in a high-necked dress," to accompany Lizzie. My much-discussed gown was of blue silk, opening over white, and laced from throat to hem with narrow black velvet! Never, never was girl as happy! The tree loaded with tiny baskets of bonbons, each enriched with an original rhyming jest or sentiment, was magnificent, the supper delicious, the speeches and poems from the two old judges (Tucker) were apt and witty. I went as a little girl—a close bud—but no "high-necked" gown ever prisoned a happier heart.

It seems to me, as I look back, that my University friends, Mr. Schéle de Vere, James Southall, William C. Rives, Jr., George Wythe Randolph, Roger Pryor, et al., felt all at once a very kind interest in my education. They sent me no end of books. The last presented me with a gorgeous Shakespeare, also Macaulay's "Essays," Hazlitt's "Age of Elizabeth" and Leigh Hunt's "Fancy and Imagination," and came himself to read them to me, along with Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Coleridge. Mr. Schéle sent me much music and French literature, he also coming to read the latter with me. William C. Rives loved my music, to which he could listen by the 79hour. I kept the friendship of these brilliant men as long as they lived. Only two lived to be old.

The Tuckers were a family of literary distinction—One of the happiest and wittiest of them was my dear Lizzie's husband, St. George Tucker. Anything, everything, would provoke a pun, a parody, or a graceful rhyme.

When it was proposed to change the name of "Competition"—a court-house village in the county of Pittsylvania—to "Chatham," he produced a pencil and paper, and in a moment gave:—

"Illustrious Pitt, how glorious is thy fame,

When Competition dies in Chatham's name."

He was a friend of G. P. R. James, whom he once surprised eating a very "ripe" cheese.

"You see, Tucker, I am, like Samson, slaying my thousands."

"And with the same weapon?" inquired St. George.

We had a delightful addition to our society in Powhatan Starke, who came from the Eastern Shore, and spent a year first as a guest of the Southalls, and later of all of us. He seemed to have been created for the express purpose of making people happy. He would have us all convulsed with laughter while he held the woollen skeins for my aunt's knitting. He taught me on the piano waltzes not to be found in the books; and the polka, a new dance with picturesque figures just then introduced. He joined in and enhanced every scheme for pleasure, and would finally spend half the night serenading us. 80"The serenade," according to a recent definition, "is a cherished courtship custom of primitive societies." Courtship had nothing to do with it in 1847. It was only a delicate compliment to ladies who had entertained the serenaders. Four or five voices in unison would sing such songs as "Oft in the Stilly Night," "The Last Rose of Summer," "Eileen Aroon," "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton," and one voice render Rizzio's lovely song:—

"Queen of my soul whose starlit eyes

Are all the light I seek,

Whose voice in sweetest melodies

Can love or pardon speak;

I yield me to thy soft control

Mary—Mary—Queen of my soul!

(Chorus)    Mary! Mary! Queen of my soul!"

With the first twang of the guitar strings we would slip from our beds, find our shawls and slippers, and creep downstairs. Crouched close to the door, we would listen for Vive l'amour, the song always concluding the serenade:—

"Let every bachelor fill up his glass,

Vive la Compagnie!

And drink to the health of his favorite lass,

Vive la Compagnie!"

And just here, rising as it were to a question of privilege concerning individual rights, let me solemnly assure my reader that I do not plagiarize from "Trilby." The low-hanging fruit of Mr. Du Maurier's bountiful orchard is to be desired to make wise the daughters of Eve, but this Eve has no occasion to rob it. Au contraire! Powhatan 81Starke had brought this song from Paris in the forties and sung it for us twenty years before, according to Du Maurier, the "genteel Carnegie" had given it in his hiccupy voice to the Laird, Taffy, Little Billie, Dodor, Zouzou, and the rest.

Personally, I should like to help myself with both hands to the clever things the young authors are writing. But I am "proud, tho' poor!" Besides, I should be found out!" Mon verre n'est pas grand, mais je bois dans mon verre."

I know, I have heard, but one verse of this immortal song. All the rest were freshly made, whether at dinner, evening party, or moonlight serenade, to suit the company and the occasion. The chorus, as rendered by Carnegie the genteel, was:—

"Veeverler, Veeverler, veverler vee

Veverler Companyee."

But my friend twenty years before respected it enough to be accurate:—

"Vive! Vive! Vive l'amour

Vive la compagnie!"

Only he, like les autres, sometimes dropped his "r's." They were all nice in their pronunciation. They gave to the broad "a" its fullest due.

"E'en the slight hahbell raised its head

Elahstic from her ahry tread!"

exclaimed George Gordon, as one of the maidens tripped across the lawn. But even he was sometimes indifferent to the rights, as a terminal, of the letter "r"; for only as a terminal does the Southern 82tongue utterly scorn it. When but a lisping infant, a possible orator was drilled in the test words:—

"Around the rugged rocks

The ragged rascal ran,"

and taught to roll the elusive consonant to the utmost limit.

But I must linger no longer in this enchanted valley among the mountains. A long road lies before me. I must pass swiftly on. With just such trifling events I might fill my book. Dear to every heart are the annals of its youth; before we enter the vast world of—

"Effort, and expectation and desire—

And something evermore about to be."

We cherish the sweet nothings of a happy time as we preserve dried rose-leaves. Mayhap through their faint fragrance we may dream the rose!

It was a busy time as well as a happy time. I was helping Mrs. William C. Rives build a church; I was hemstitching all the ruffles for Thomasia Woodson's trousseau; I was playing waltzes, ad infinitum, at the house-parties in Charlotte—the Henrys and Carringtons—and singing campaign songs, to the great delight of my dear grandfather, in honor of my old friend, Henry Clay, whom we were once more trying to make our President:—

"Get out o' the way, you're all unlucky;

Clear the track for old Kentucky!"

(And just here I wish to record the fact that only once in all my life did my old grandfather ever reprove me. I had committed a flagrant act of lèse majestie. I had put a nightcap on the bust of Patrick Henry!)

83

But my dear aunt's invitations, written on paper embossed with an orange-blossom and tied with white satin ribbon, were now issued for my wedding.

I had begun my acquaintance with the young man known now as "the General," or "the Judge," by beseeching God to take care of him. According to my Presbyterian training, I was taught that every prayer must be followed by efforts for its fulfilment. It was clearly my duty "to take care of him." He needed it.


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