« 上一页继续 »
would perhaps not occur, if there were an independent and sufficiently consequential so-' ciety in Washington, capable of punishing offenders against the proprieties of life. At all events, if it be proper that Congress and the administration of the government should be placed beyond the influence of a mob of a great city, it would certainly not be amiss if they were more frequently brought within the sphere of those more gentle attractions which can hardly exist for them, as long as they remain beyond the pale of social rewards and punishments. Even an exclusively literary society may be rude when it dictates instead of ministering to the accomplishments of the other classes. Society is naturally jealous of dominion. It may be the creator and at times the slave of fashion; but it is always destitute of taste when it is supremely ruled by a caste.
Where society is exclusively composed of one set of men and women, no matter what their qualifications may be, it soon becomes irksome. Its members become as familiar to each other as old household furniture, and the whole cycle of social pleasures is soon reduced to a series of mutual entertainments. To this monotony, even the most extensive society of London is reduced, from its exclusiveness. Thoughts, ideas, feelings, and the mode of expressing them, become tinctured with a fatal mannerism which acts as a check on the mind, instead of serving it merely as an agreeable mode of conveyance. The frame becomes soon more valuable than the picture, and an acquaintance with forms, and the punctilio of politeness, a mystery known only to the craft. In this respect the best English society is probably nearest allied to the Chinese, only that the latter is much more democratic; Mandarins being made out of scholars and not out of the offspring of noble families, and official position, which alone gives rank in the Celestial Empire, open to individual merit. The blood relations of Confucius, it is true, receive pensions; but they do not set the fashion of Celestial society.
It is a familiar saying in England that "a person may be admitted to their best society, but that none but its members ever belong to it." Society and the institutions of England, are alike resting on a feudal basis which has successfully withstood all revolutions in politics, religion, ethics, and taste; and it is for this reason that Madame de Stael, though herself but a distinguished commonplace, observed that English society was the most capital means of keeping ordinary men in prominent places. The perfect ease which pervades the first society in England is, no doubt, the result of the conviction that its members are above criticism—that no accidents, no voluntary or involuntary demerit on their part, can derogate
from their dignity, or in aught diminish that influence on the inferior classes which causes these to emulate their matchless example.
There certainly exists something similar to this in Washington in regard to the peerless society of senators, members, and the corps diplomatique. These coiistitute, par excellence, the society of Washington; and although the first two, as above stated, are in general, selected from the strongest and ablest men of the country, yet as society is necessarily the province of women and not of men, their very originality is calculated to give ladies a certain degree of uneasiness. On the other hand, one is frequently introduced to fashionable women in Washington, whom it would be difficult to class in any other city in the Union, on account of their being strangers, comparatively, in all of them. This may, indeed, heighten their charms, and increase the attractions of their company; but the season in Washington is too short to mature acquaintance into friendship, or to leave more than partial regrets for ties easily formed and quickly severed. There is little souvenir in Washington, and not enough of retired private life to compensate for the wrongs inflicted by society. The city is too small for people to live in retirement, and yet too large and noisy to promote the formation of domestic habits. Washington is a watering place, without its comforts, its social equality, its abandon, and oh! shall I name it? —without its bath's! It is a mere rendez-vous of politicians, not always statesmen—a public exchange, on which power and place are discounted—the arena of high ambition and vulgar pride—the place to study men and women; but the most ill-chosen residence of those whose happiness depends on the sympathy of others. But to return to senators and members.
The members of the House of Representatives are only elected for two years, and the progress of the country, and the genius of the people are such, that but few of them comparatively, are re-elected, until they become fixtures, or pass eventually into the Senate. Members, therefore, are not surrounded by that prfstige of power and office, which could make their office a passe partout in society. They are looked upon as in a transition state; either senators in embryo, or candidates for retired citizenship. The case is different with senators; and accordingly, next to the cabinet ministers in Washington, the members of the Senate of the United States are the enfants gatfs of society. Every senator of distinction may be looked upon as a candidate for the presidency; many of them have been and will be, candidates during the period of their natural lives; and this state of things will continue as long as the institutions of our country shall endure.
As a body, the Senate of the United States can probably boast of a greater array of talent, vigour, and originality than any other body of men on the globe. I doubt whether the Roman senate, in its palmiest days, entertained more enlarged views of government, or were more familiar with the wants of the people, and the obligations of legislators. There certainly never was, and is not now, a Chamber of Peers or a House of Lords in Europe, whose aggregate talent can at all be compared to that of our own Senate. As far as talent, energy, or | originality can grace society, that of our senators must be particularly entertaining and instructive. But senators do not lire in Washington; they merely sojourn there, and but few of them ever honour the metropolis with the presence of their wives or daughters. Neither Mr. Clay, the true personation of the beau ideal of American character, nor Mr. Webster, nor Mr. Calhoun, has been in the habit of bringing his family regularly to Washington. Some of the most agreeable senators never had wives; and not more than two or three, as far as I can remember, ever kept house there, and entertained a circle of friends. Senator Benton is a long resident of Washington, and has contributed much to the intellectual and social entertainment of strangers and residents; Senator Dix, and his accomplished family, were his neighbours; and the Hon. Robert J. Walker's house has ever been distinguished for its riunions of clever persons, and its unpretending hospitality: but beyond these few exceptions to the rule, I know of few instances in which senators have become domesticated in the federal city. They live there in taverns and boarding-houses; and the people of Washington have as good a right to boast of their society, as the citizens of modern Rome have a right to boast of the society of the English nobles who go there, from time to time, to spend the holy week. Neither senators nor members constitute what may properly be called Washington society; they go there as people go to a fair or a cattle show, or to any other place of public notoriety; resolved to put up with temporary accommodations, and satisfied with any reasonable show of attention on the part of their hosts and hostesses. They do not constitute a coterie of their own, but depend on the hospitalities of others; and as they hold the power, and their entertainers are, for the most part, clients who may have favours to ask, the amphytrions of Washington city may reasonably be suspected of more than one object in the choice of their guests. The contemplation of the ulterior object of a dinner party is often quite as bad as the anticipation
of dyspepsia; nobody knowing what may be the consequence.
As to the corps diplomatique, it is entitled to a separate notice, both from its importance and its insignificance. To judge of its insignificance it is only necessary to compare its members with the leading statesmen of Europe and America; but especially with the diplomates of the old world. Who, for instance, would dream of sending such a person as Chevalier Bodisco to England or France? What figure would Mr. Pageot have made by the side of Talleyrand, Perrier, Guizot, Broglic? What place would Chevalier d'Hulseman, the forgotten Austrian relic of Baron Marschall, occupy in London, Paris, or St. Petcrsburgh? I might go through the whole list of foreign ministers and diplomatic agents in Washington to show that, with one or two prominent exceptions, there is scarcely a man among them known to reputation or fame; and yet that corps furnishes above all others the standard of refinement and good breeding in the American capital! It would seem as if, through the everlasting mutations in Washington society, the foreign diplomates were the only persons in the place whose position may, in some degree, be considered as secure; partly because their offices are not coveted, and partly because they are too far from home to be reached by every change of administration or politics. Washington seems to be the Botany Bay of European diplomacy, to which ministers and chargfs are sent for a number of years, or for life, according to their respective standing at home—not so much for the good they are expected to do there, as in order to get rid of them in their own country, where they might stand in the way of other men's promotions.
But there is yet another reason why a diplomatic appointment in Washington is a mere sinecure. The government of the United States, being essentially one of public opinion and not of individual ideas, negotiates with the foreign governments on principles of reciprocity. We have nothing to do with sinister alliances and wicked combinations against third powers. Our government is in reality what it purports to be—a truth and not a fiction: it deals in principles, not in stratagems—in public measures, not in diplomatic intrigues. "Dissimuler e'est regner" was the motto of Cardinal Mazarin, and has been the soul of diplomacy from that period. The United States have no occasion for dissimulation, which is at war with the principles of our government. We have no powerful neighbour to harass our frontier population—no American coalition to arrest our progress. Our ultimate destiny is so irresistibly impressed on the mind of the whole civilized world, that to oppose it by the petty intrigues of European diplomacy, would seem like an attempt to resist the decrees of Providence. In that respect, therefore, a European diplomate is a man without a calling in Washington. He is the mere representative of the conventional forms of the old feudal institutions of Europe, —an actor without a stage—an orator without a forum.
Another function of diplomatic gentlemen in Europe is to act as spies to their respective governments in the country to which they are accredited, in other words, to do those things, under the protection of their respective governments, for which, as individuals, they would be expelled from all decent society; but even in this respect diplomacy in Washington is a useless commodity. The diplomate in Washington must be very shrewd who wishes to be in advance of the public press; the press being in most cases ahead of the government itself. If the princes of Europe would regularly subscribe and read half a dozen of our newspapers which I could name, they would not only derive more information in regard to our progress and the institutions of our country than they can possibly receive from the official despatches of their ministers in Washington, but learn more in regard to their own position at home than they are likely to know through the means of their court flatterers.
The members of the diplomatic corps being funclui officio, seem to have taken a notion to improve the manners of society; not that they are essentially better bred than the people whose manners they purpose to refine, but simply because they have nothing else to do. They feel that in proportion as the internal development of our country is going on, its external relations are of comparatively little consequence. The growth of the United States does not depend on external circumstances; but our manners betray, perhaps, too much of their European origin, and thus invite "foreign interference." The foreign ministers and their attache's, enjoying more leisure than other people in Washington, are expected to entertain more, and as that seems to be the principal duty of their vocation, the most sensible of the corps devote themselves to it with entire resignation. But it must not be supposed that this is altogether voluntary on their part, or a spontaneous effort of their liberality; their hospitality is in obedience to their instructions, and is defrayed by their respective governments. It is the Emperor of Russia, the Emperor of Austria, or the King of Prussia who entertains, not the minister; and the people of those countries pay for the entertainment. The table-money of foreign ministers amounts in many oases to a considerable sum,
and doubts may arise whether it is entirely expended for amphytrionic purposes by the respective functionaries.
It has often been remarked, in and out of the halls of Congress, that our ministers abroad are not sufficiently well paid, and, in consequence of it, obliged to remain behind their colleagues even from the less powerful states of Europe. It might perhaps be well, in connexion with this subject, to compare the expenditures of our ministers abroad with those of the members of the corps diplomatique in Washington. Considering that our own ministers abroad entertain out of their own small salaries or private fortunes, and that the entertainments of the foreign ministers in Washington are paid for by the respective governments, American hospitality abroad compares exceedingly well with the meagre European show of that sort in the federal city. Our ministers abroad not only entertain Europeans, but are also expected to show some attention to their own countrymen, of whom there are at least five hundred times as many in London or Paris as there are Englishmen or Frenchmen entitled to similar honours from their ministers in Washington. I have known quite a respectable array of educated Europeans in Washington, but few of them could boast of receiving the merest official politeness from their ministers; while our own travellers in Europe expect our ministers abroad not only to breakfast and dine them, but to act as showmen to the ladies of the party. They must be presented at court and launched in sooiety, or the minister may be presented with some stricture in a newspaper which, perchance, is the only thing he receives free of postage while at his foreign post. Considering all these things, our ministers in Europe maintain far more extensive establishments than the ministers of European powers in America. It is not uncommon for a foreign charge^ in Washington to have rooms over a barber's shop, or to hire a corner of the establishment of a green-grocer, with a solitary negro boy Pompey for his whole suite; and yet what is the rent of a respectable house in Washington compared with that of suitable apartments in London or Paris. The rent of the latter would build a house in the city of Washington!
It has been quite fashionable, for some years past, to retail the gaucheries of which our ministers and chargfs d'affaires were said to be guilty in Europe; yet it has been admitted on all hands, and by none more readily than Englishmen and Frenchmen, that our ill-paid, uninformed, gauche diplomatic servants have generally acquitted themselves very handsomely of their tasks; while, not more than three or four years ago, General Almonte, the then minister from Mexico, was oonsideretl the Leader of the corps diplomatique in Washington! When the United States claimed twenty-five millions of francs, as an indemnity due from France to our citizens, the best British periodicals, being fully convinced of the awkwardness and inexperience of our ministers abroad, made use of this laconic remark: "Jonathan has claimed the money, and Jonathan will have it;" and the prophecy became true.
And now let us see what men the United States has had to represent her interests, successively, in England, France, Russia, and Germany, and compare them with the comparatively obscure men whom Europe has sent to America. We were represented by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Clay, John Quincy Adams, Livingston, Rush, Gallatin, Dallas, Buchanan, Cass, Everett, Whcaton, and Bancroft,—a galaxy of statesmen, jurists, historians, and philosophers, of which any country in its palmiest days might well be proud, and embracing a greater number of men of historical renown, than fill the aunals of all European diplomacy in the same space of time. In comparison to these men, all the names Europe has sent us, might well befit the inmates of a charity hospital, and the best European writers would hardly assign them a better place among the notabilities of their own country. In short, our ill-paid diplomatic agents, the objects of so much private and official pity, have managed to maintain their rank and position; while the whole business of the corps diplomatique in the United States seems to consist in gracing the social circles of the boundless metropolis. It is they who set the fashions in Washington; but it does not appear that their influence extends over more than a dozen families. The people of Washington are essentially poor, and their imitation of outlandish manners seldom goes beyond a late hour for breakfast or dinner. The foreign ministers themselves have, within the last ten or twelve years, gradually reduced their expenses, and it is no exaggeration to say that the greater part of them do not nearly live surrounded by the comfort and elegance of our wealthy merchants in the Atlantic cities.
Great stress is laid in Washington on having the entr/e to a foreign minister, and great are tae social privileges granted to some of these gentlemen for this sort of favour. In Europe, »n ambassador's house is scarcely looked upon »s more private than a public hotel, and an invitation to the ball of a foreign minister is not valued higher than in New York the permission jf joining "n hop" at the Astor. Everybody goes, and no man of a certain
respectability can well be excluded. The case is different with the invitations to parties en petit comiti, which are the only ones that entitle you to a call on the family of the minister ;—all others give you only the privilege of carding. The fact is, the corp» diplomatique, from its very position, cannot lead society in any country. The elements of which it is composed are too heterogeneous to admit of assimilation; and if such an assimilation were possible, every civilized country would have a right to expect that its own standard of manners should be adopted by foreigners.
Passing from the corps diplomatique to the other privileged classes of Washington, we come to the secretaries and heads of bureaux. The former live in Washington pretty much as they like—sometimes in accordance with their future hopes and aspirations. Those who expect to rise higher, entertain pretty liberally; those who expect to return to private life, or to try their fortunes once more in an inferior capacity, generally manage to live within their income, which is modest enough even for the sternest republicans. Once a year only they are obliged, by the custom of the place, to keep open house, and entertain whoever chooses to visit them, viz., on New Year's day; but a glass of wine and a piece of cake is all that is expected of their hospitality. The heads of bureaux, for some time past, seem to have given up the practice of entertaining members and senators. Life is too short, and living too expensive, to waste money and politeness on men who, as the experience of former times has shown, are seldom propitiated by such a course. Instances have occurred, in which the invited guests of such parties have actually intrigued against their hospitable entertainers in favour of absent friends, so that mine host not only lost his wine and his trouble, but his place to boot.
The President of the United States is, socially speaking, a being sui generis, that is, altogether beyond the reach of ordinary capacities. He is bound by no rule of etiquette except such as he establishes himself; and it is precisely for this reason that even the chief magistrate cannot contribute to the refinement and agreeable entertainment of Washington society. The President is a stranger in Washington; residing there only for a few years, and incapable, during that short period, either to shake off the burdensome dignity of office, or the predilections and prejudices of party. Presidential usage requires him to receive friends and foes with apparent cordiality, and jrhat is more, to dine them alphabetically. Such entertainments must, from their very nature, be stiff and ceremonial, and can only serve to render the hospitality of the White House an onerous duty to the American President. The presidential mansion, on this account, always has the appearance of the most cheerless building in the whole city; although its windows look into Virginia, the most hospitable state of the old confederacy. It is neither a castle, nor the humble dwelling of a private citizen; everybody has a right to go there, and yet none may say that he is sure of a hearty welcome. To the occupants pro tern, it may be something between a boardinghouse and a family mansion, without the independence or comfort of either; but to the people of Washington, it is very little more than one of the departments of the government. It is a place for official receptions and bows; but the civilities there interchanged seldom warm into the agreeable liking of an acquaintance, and rarely into lasting friendship. There is no greater stranger in Washington than the President himself; and strangers cannot be supposed to set the fashions or to exercise much influence on the standard of conventional manners. The early Virginia Presidents were, in this respect, a little better circumstanced. Their homes being near, they maintained an agreeable intercourse with their personal friends, which served as an introduction to a larger sphere of interesting acquaintances.
One of the misfortunes of Washington consists undoubtedly in the asperity of political feelings, and the strong partisan character of many of its most conspicuous inhabitants. The people of the District have no vote in regard to the presidency, and yet nowhere are political distinctions more rigidly preserved and cherished. The town being small, every person of note is soon known; and as there seem to be few other pursuits in Washington than politics, differences in relation to them are constantly brought in view and commented upon. The best breeding cannot entirely suppress all feeling on the subject, and the periodical changes of members and officers are admirably calculated to sharpen the stings of disappointment and revenge. There are, of course, men above the vexations of party; but their number is small, from the fact that there are but few private fortunes in Washington of sufficient magnitude to render their possessors independent, and scarcely any road to wealth, or even competence, except through official patronage. Everybody in Washington lives on the government or its functionaries, and every new administration necessarily unsettles every species of real and personal property.
The strong partisan feeling in Washington is undoubtedly the cause why Congress has heretofore shown so little disposition to make the necessary appropriations for its improve
ment. Washington is beautifully situated, and laid out in a manner infinitely superior to that of any other city in the Union. It might be made the abode of science and the arts, and become the resort of fortune, retired from the more arduous pursuits of life. It has admirable drives in the neighbourhood, and the Capitol grounds themselves are unsurpassed in the whole country for the beauty of the prospect enjoyed from them. The avenues are all as wide, or nearly so, as the Champs Elysfes in Paris, and might, with proper care, be rendered shady and delightful. Congress ought to appropriate annually not less than the sum of one hundred thousand dollars towards making Washington worthy of its name, and of being the metropolis of the giant republic of the nineteenth century; and this appropriation would probably be agreed to in Congress, but for the party hostilities exhibited by some of its inhabitants. Washington, with suitable improvements, might be made the most delightful eity in the United States. It might not, indeed, rival New York or Philadelphia in some respects; but it would possess advantages possessed by no other city—such as close contact with the epitome of the national mind, constant freshness of society, moving sketches of metropolitan and provincial life, and the indispensable prerequisites of refined society—a constant number of families of independent fortune and position, who would be able to fix on some national, purely American standard of manners. Such a society, no doubt, Washington will, in the end, command in a superior degree to any other city in the Union; but it is not to be found there now, and may not be called into existence for the next ten years.
To sum up, Washington is the most singular place in the world. Its most distinguished inhabitants, the gentlemen highest in office, have little or no influence on society, indeed they may hardly be said to belong to it; while those who constitute its chief ornaments are, after all, but officials; the few fortunes in Washington being hardly sufficient to take the lead. Washington is, and will yet remain for many years, a huge caravansary for politicians from all parts of the globe; but few of the faithful will ever think of erecting mosques and harems in its neighbourhood. You may there meet with many agreeable and entertaining people; but they are birds of passage like yourself, and so completely interspersed with persons of accidental position, whom nobody cares to know, that they only excite the desire of meeting them elsewhere, where one could enjoy their society without intrusion.
The President's social intercourse with the people of Washington is usually confined to receptions and levees, to which the public are