Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London by Day and Night, by David W.Bartlett, 1852 - Chapter 15 - Strangers in London - Americans

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CHAPTER XV.

STRANGERS IN LONDON.

AMERICANS.

    WE can hardly understand the reason, but it is a fact that many citizens of America, when travelling in Europe, seem to lose their democratic principles, or are at least ashamed of them. As a rule, no travelling people in the world are such sycophants - and we speak advisedly. An Englishman in America never feels called upon to speak in praise of those institutions among us, which he does not admire in reality. But many Americans in England grow enthusiastic in praise of the aristocratic institutions of that country. We all remember what Lord Brougham said to the American - and there was ground for it. Too many of them, while in Europe, affect a love for kingcraft and despotism, and too often the Ambassadors of this country abroad, are rather sympathizers with the nobles than with the people - with oppressors than with the oppressed.
    We well remember the advice of a sage friend, given to us before leaving America:
    "Everywhere you go - be not ashamed of America. You will gain respect by such a course." And we found it exactly so. Almost the first evening we spent in English society, a lady whose mind was bitterly prejudiced against America, said: 
    [-258-] "Your republicanism will not last twenty years, it is not a natural and safe system!" We asked if among the proofs of the naturalness and safety of the English system, she would reckon the fact that there were three millions of paupers in England? From politics she changed to literature, saying:
    "I admit that you have great reason to be proud of Irving and Cooper - but you have no poets."
    "Begging your pardon, we have," we replied.
    "But none like Shakspeare and Milton!" she said.
    "Shakspeare and Milton are no more yours than ours," we replied. "We are as closely connected with them as you - we are both descendants of the age and race which gave them birth, and that is all either of us can claim."
    "But we have Tennyson."
    "And we, Longfellow!"
    "Well - I applaud you for defending America - but your countrymen scarcely ever do so here!" This remark stung us to the quick, for we knew it to be true. It is well-known throughout England, and is often spoken of - that Americans worship English aristocrats when they are in England, if thereby they can gain the slightest degree of attention. The English Aristocracy know how to win over the American Ministers to their opinions. They tickle him with flattering attentions ; invite him to their magnificent country-seats, until he emulates them in their gorgeous gauds, and his salary is not large enough to meet his expenses.
    Benjamin Franklin was no sycophant, and still was respected by nobles and kings. Even in Paris where there is a natural fondness for gewgaws and pageantry, the simple and stern old printer had the reverence of the highest. So if we keep men of real intellect abroad, they will not need to make a show - but if of small calibre, pomp and circumstance are necessary.
    As a general rule the Americans are received well in Eng-[-259-]lish circles. As a matter of course the nobles are not specially cordial towards a republican but even they like an American all the better for daring to defend his native land.
    Perhaps no American scholar ever was better received in England than Mr. Emerson the poet-lecturer. His reception among the literary and learned classes was of the most flattering nature, and he never showed the slightest symptoms of man-worship. The simplicity of his manners, his total want of worship for mere rank or station, endeared him to all those who knew him intimately.
    It is perfectly easy for an American who is among the aristocrats of Europe, to cling to his republicanism and for such a course he will obtain great respect from those who profess to despise American theories respecting government.
    The late Henry Colman was a fine instance of this fact. It is well known that he was petted and flattered by the first nobles of England. Some have gone so far as to accuse him of king-worship, but unjustly. No American, it is true, ever was received in a more cordial manner by the English aristocracy. Invitations poured in upon him from all quarters, but he never for a moment disavowed his republican and democratical opinions and never would hear an unjust remark in reference to America without replying to it. He however was a candid man, and when just criticisms were made upon this country, he acknowledged their truth, and also claimed the same liberty to criticize what he saw wrong in England. When be returned to America he published his volumes, in which he was not afraid to expose the terrible poverty in England, and the wretched condition of the English peasantry. From the nature of his book, it consisting of many graphic pictures of aristocratic life, it had a very wide circulation among the nobility. And they respected him the more for his conscientious deportment, and when he returned again to England, the same halls and castles were open to him with [-260-] the old warmth of reception - indeed his second visit was more flattering than the first. It is told of him, that when the late French Revolution broke out, he was at the country-seat of one of the English nobles. The news of Louis Philippe's overthrow came while the party were at dinner. Every one deprecated it, and spoke in terms of disapprobation of the republicans. Said Mr. Colman:
    "I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen, but I love political liberty, and thank God that there is so fine a prospect of seeing Frenchmen in the possession of it."
    But it should not be the aim of American travellers to see aristocratic life in Europe-  they had far better study the people, move among the refined and wise if they wish, but not become the despicable followers and flatterers of some hereditary despot for the sake of winning one of his smiles. These very men despise, from the bottom of their hearts, those Americans who are so recreaut to their principles. There is a call for reform in this base business, for already in certain portions of Europe, we are looked upon as the defenders of old Conservatism, rather than political Liberalism. Such is not the fact. The people of this country are radically democratic, but are often misrepresented abroad, both by common travellers and lawful representatives at foreign courts. This should be the case no longer.

GRISI AND ALBONI.

    We saw Mademoiselle Alboni before we saw her great rival the Swedish Nightingale. Madame Grisi sang with her upon the occasion, and to our ears, sang very enchantingly, too. But she is no longer the rage of the fashionable world - her triumph-days are gone. Making no pretensions to musical skill, we of course venture upon no criticisms, yet relate impressions. We heard these mistresses of song at the [-261-] Italian Opera House; a single box we occupied costing twenty-five dollars. We stepped into it a little before eight o'clock, and were pleasantly astonished at the sight. Imagine a vast interior, lighted by a mammoth chandelier, emitting light almost like a sun - several hundred splendid boxes, filled with the nobility and aristocracy of England, blood, wealth, and genius - a vast pit, a stall gallery, and an amphitheatre. The dress-etiquette of the boxes is very rigid, and perhaps (as the Opera-goers claim) it is well that it is so. The opera for the evening was Scott's Lady of the Lake Italianized. The orchestra was immense in numbers, and the effect of its music was indescribably grand. An idea of the power and sublimity of musical sounds stole over us such as we never felt before. The scenic displays were gorgeous and beautiful Madame Grisi was dressed in the simplest manner possible - in plain white, with a crimson sash tied prettily about the waist. Her figure like her acting was good, especially when fire, enthusiasm, and daring were in the lines she sung. Her eyes flashed forth the true Italian fire, and her hair was dark and beautiful. Her voice, to us, was supassingly thrilling and passionate, and while she sung we could but recollect the anecdote of her, which is said to be true - how that once being invited by some haughty nobleman in London, to an evening party, when the supper was announced, an official politely informed her that supper was provided in a distinct room for the musicians! The proud nobleman in the insolence of his hauteur forgot true politeness in his treatment of a guest. How Grisi stormed - how her black eyes flashed lightning, and her step grew proud! A half-dozen of the elite of the nobility and literary aristocracy followed her to her supper-room, and there with her associate singers, she sung such songs of marvellous beauty, that the outsiders begged admittance, but found the door locked against them.
    We could see yet in Madame Grisi the magnificent [-262-] passionate acting, and that sweet dignity which has ever been one of her characteristics.
    Mademoiselle Alboni sang the part of Malcolm, the same evening, and her voice was the softest, clearest we then had ever heard. She was dressed with simplicity, and the charm of her acting was in a certain na´vetÚ which appeared in every gesture. She is enormously fat, with a beautiful complexion, auburn hair, and a low broad forehead. When she came out upon the stage, she was greeted with great applause, and her first notes were like a bird's - so soft, gushing, and artless. Although far away from her in a distant box, each note came clearly to us, and distinctly. At length she seemed to gather courage, or passion, and grew more fitful and declamatory in her style and voice. Then the mighty orchestra broke in upon her, and yet above its tempest, her sweet voice warbled, fainter, yet almost as clearly as ever. Then the orchestra's thunder died away and she was alone, soaring step by step to her climax. Every moment added to the intense passion of her manner, and the wonderful compass of her voice. Up and up, farther and farther in the blue above soared her voice, until an idea seized us that a certain note, so high that we could scarcely imagine it, should be her resting-place, should complete the harmony. And by one bold effort she reached it and poised there like a lark, filling the capacious theatre with the thrilling note, and then sank back exhausted. All had been still, painfully still, until her climax was reached and finished, but then such a clapping of soft, white hands, such a waving of handkerchiefs we never saw before. The Earl of Carlisle arose in his box, and threw to her a splendid bouquet, which with admirable perception and gracefulness she threw into the hands of her rival, Grisi. Two of the sons of ex-king Louis Philippe were present and followed suit with bouquets.
    We were in London during one of the "seasons" of Jenny [-263-] Lind's triumph there. One night she sang at the Italian Opera in Lucie di Lammermoor. The price of boxes rose from twenty-five dollars to eighty, and were eagerly bought at that price. There was the same enthusiasm in London as in American towns, recently, during the wondrous performances of the "nightingale." In America we have not seen her to advantage, for she is most triumphant in the Opera. Her acting is surpassingly beautiful. Her manner was so artless and frank that she captivated all hearts, and would have done so had her voice been less beautiful than it was. With a good-natured countenance, mild eyes, and a pleasant mouth, consummate acting, and a voice superior perhaps to any in the world, it is not strange that all London was mad to see her. To us her chief glory lies in the fact that with all her almost miraculous powers, notwithstanding all the splendid temptations which luxurious noblemen threw in her way, she remains as pure, as free, and generous, as when she graced the simple home of her father at Stockholm. Amid the applauses and flatteries of the Berliners, the Parisians, the Londoners, and the Americans, she preserves her original simplicity and pureness of heart. One of her intimate friends, while in England, was Mrs. S. C. hall, the authoress, whose beautiful residence of "The Rosary," at Old Brompton, London, was not far from the house Mdlle. Lind occupied.

FREILIGRATH.

    We visited one spring evening, by invitation, the celebrated German exile-poet, FERDINAND FREILIGRATH. His residence was then in a northern suburb of the town, a half-hour's brisk ride from the Exchange. We met with a warm reception from the poet, from the fact of our being an American. He was alone, in his drawing-room, reading. We were disappointed in his appearance - perhaps agreeably so. We had [-264-] supposed that an exile in the cause of liberty must be pale of face, spiritual, and his body attenuated. But we were mistaken ; instead of a wasted martyr, we saw a large and robust man, with a full, broad face, and huge beard, and an abundance of fine, black hair. His forehead was exceedingly large and rotund. Ideality, as fixed by the phrenologists, was large, as well as Causality. His face was intellectual, and yet there was marked animality in it. Indeed, from this we think arises his great love for his kind. Mere intellect cares for science and the arts, and overlooks humanity. The great poet, or artist, is full of strong impulses or passions, and these, guided by intellect, enable him to write poetry. In many instances the animal feelings ruin the man, as in the case of Byron. But, without them the poet is not readable - his literary offspring lack fire and power:
        "If he stir you at all, it is just, on my soul,
        Like being stirred up with the very North Pole.
    We were soon talking of America, a subject which interested the poet deeply, for he is himself a republican in sentiment. Of our great natural resources he spoke in terms of wonder, and also of the energy of the American nation. When he spoke of his native land he became sadder. The first Prussian revolution had transpired, and he was full of hope, if not for the establishment of republicanism, of a constitutional monarchy, and eventually of something still more democratical. He spoke with great interest of Professor Longfellow, whose acquaintance he formed in Germany years ago and with whom he has since corresponded.
    During the evening his wife entered the room, and we had the pleasure of making her acquaintance. She is a fair specimen of German female beauty (among the refined classes), has dark hair, and beautiful gray eyes, pale cheeks with a tinge of crimson, and a slender form.
    [-265-] They were making preparations to go back to Prussia, as his friends were again in power.
    Freiligrath was born at Detmold, the capital of the little princedom of Lippe-Detmold, Prussia, on the 17th of June, 1820. In 1835 he first began to publish his poetry in the German newspapers. At that time he was a merchant s clerk - an office not congenial to the taste of a poet. Gradually and surely his reputation extended, until he was great. In 1839 he threw up his mercantile profession, and devoted himself to literature. In 1844 he published a work entitled, "CONFESSION OF FAITH," in which he advocated democracy. The ire of the king was ignited by it, and he was obliged to flee for his life. He knew not where to go. He was poor, but trusted in God, and kept a stout heart. William Howitt made an arrangement for him to become connected with a German house in London, for which he should receive a good salary, and he accordingly came to England, where he remained two years. He was warmly welcomed by that portion of the English literary world that has sympathies with humanity and the spirit of the age, but the aristocracy slighted the exile. Bulwer once called upon him, but the men and women of place and power passed him by. It mattered little, however, for such men as Thackeray, Howitt, and Dickens welcomed him. He needed not their smiles, for a brilliant triumph was awaiting him in Prussia.
    A few weeks after we saw him, on the evening above mentioned, he returned to his native Prussia, and everywhere the people gathered at his feet with huzzas of welcome. He shortly after wrote a poem entitled "THE DEAD TO THE LIVING," which was published. It eloquently exposed the conduct of the King during the revolution. On the 29th of August, 1848, while at Dusseldorf, he was again arrested on the charge of high treason, and was summoned before the Minister of Public Instruction. Dusseldorf was in a state of intense [-256-] excitement. The evening of his arrest seven thousand students marched its streets, solemly chanting his poem. The effect was thrilling. Thousands offered to beat down him prison-walls and release him, but it was wisely resolved to await his trial, which was the first under the new constitution, granting a trial by jury. His wife and children were allowed to visit him four times each week in the presence of an officer. On the third of October he was brought to his trial. Six hundred of the Burgher Guard surrounded the building in which his trial was conducted. The building was crowded to excess by some of the noblest men and women in Prussia, witnesses of the scene. There was no boisterous excitement ; every face was solemn and sad-they were to see that day whether there was liberty in Prussia or not. Freiligrath, calm as a statue, entered, and when he had taken his seat, as if by magic, a thousand beautiful bouquets were thrown at his feet, but there were no outbursts of applause. It was clearly proved that 9,000 copies of his poem had been sold - that he was the author.
    "What is your verdict?" asked the Clerk of the Court, of the Foreman.
    "Not Guilty!" was his answer, and then the walls of the court-room vibrated as with thunder. The poet was borne on the shoulders of the sturdy Germans away to his home. The balconies and windows in the streets were full of fine ladies, who waved their handkerchiefs, and the people in the streets spread his path with branches and flowers, to his house. He felt it. and all Germany felt it to be a triumph of the cause of Truth and Freedom. But the days of aristocratic rule hastened on ; there came a reaction, and Ferdinand Freiligrath once more was in danger of his life if he remained in his native land. Once more the noble patriot fled to England, where he now is awaiting calmly the next great Revolution of Nations, which shall give to the people their liberties.

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