Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

“you have buried their good Qualities in the Shade”

ANNE WILLING BINGHAM replied to Thomas Jefferson’s letter of February 1787 (see previous post) fairly promptly. He had asked her to let him know whether she thought a woman’s life in Paris or in America ought to be more admired. Anne waffles a bit, but does not back down from her opinion that the activities of those French women in the upper social strata, especially the “salonnieres,” played an important role in the intellectual and political life of Paris. Anne asks to be remembered to Jefferson’s daughter Patsy and thanks him for the information on cultural events and fashions he provides. A lovely and interesting letter.

[Philadelphia, 1 June 1787]I am too much flattered by the Honor of your letter from Paris, not to acknowledge it by the earliest opportunity, and to assure you that I am very sensible of your attentions. The Candor with which you express your sentiments, merits a sincere declaration of mine.

I agree with you that many of the fashionable pursuits of the Parisian Ladies are rather frivolous, and become uninteresting to a reflective Mind; but the Picture you have exhibited, is rather overcharged. You have thrown a strong light upon all that is ridiculous in their Characters, and you have buried their good Qualities in the Shade. It shall be my Task to bring them forward, or at least to attempt it. The state of Society in different Countries requires corresponding Manners and Qualifications; those of the french Women are by no means calculated for the Meridian of America, neither are they adapted to render the Sex so amiable or agreable in the English acceptation, of those words. But you must confess, that they are more accomplished, and understand the Intercourse of society better than in any other Country. We are irresistibly pleased with them, because they possess the happy Art of making us pleased with ourselves; their education is of a higher Cast, and by great cultivation they procure a happy variety of Genius, which forms their Conversation, to please either the Fop, or the Philosopher.

In what other Country can be found a Marquise de Coigny, who, young and handsome, takes a lead in all the fashionable Dissipation of Life, and at more serious moments collects at her House an assembly of the Literati, whom she charms with her Knowledge and her bel Esprit. The Women of France interfere in the politics of the Country, and often give a decided Turn to the Fate of Empires. Either by the gentle Arts of persuasion, or by the commanding force of superior Attractions and Address, they have obtained that Rank and Consideration in society, which the Sex are intitled to, and which they in vain contend for in other Countries. We are therefore bound in Gratitude to admire and revere them, for asserting our Privileges, as much as the Friends of the Liberties of Mankind reverence the successfull Struggles of the American Patriots.

The agreable resources of Paris must certainly please and instruct every Class of Characters. The Arts of Elegance are there considered essential, and are carried to a state of Perfection; the Mind is continually gratified with the admiration of Works of Taste. I have the pleasure of knowing you too well, to doubt of your subscribing to this opinion. With respect to my native Country, I assure you that I am fervently attached to it, as well as to my Friends and Connections in it; there is possibly more sincerity in Professions and a stronger desire of rendering real services, and when the Mouth expresses, the Heart speaks.

I am sensible that I shall tire you to Death from the length of this Letter, and had almost forgot that you are in Paris, and that every instant of your Time is valuable, and might be much better employed than I can possibly do it. However, I shall reserve a further examination of this subject to the Period, when I can have the happiness of meeting you, when we will again resume it. I feel myself under many obligations for your kind present of les Modes de Paris; they have furnished our Ladies with many Hints, for the decoration of their Persons, and I have informed them to whom they are indebted. I shall benefit by your obliging offer of service, whenever I shall have occasion for a fresh Importation of Fashions; at present I am well stocked having lately received a variety of Articles from Paris.

Be so kind as to remember me with affection to Miss Jefferson—tell her she is the envy of all the young Ladies in America, and that I should wish nothing so much as to place my little Girl, under her inspection and protection, should she not leave Paris before I re-visit it. I shall hope for the pleasure of hearing from you, and if you accompany another book of fashions, with any new Opera’s or Comedies, you will infinitely oblige me. It is quite time I bad you adieu, but remember that this first of June I am constant to my former opinion, nor can I believe that any length of time will change it. I am determined to have some merit in your eyes, if not for taste and judgment, at least for consistency.
Allow me my dear Sir to assure you that I am sincerely & respectfully yours &c.,
A Bingham

Letter to Thomas Jefferson from Anne Willing Bingham, [1 June 1787],” Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 392–394.

posted April 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Fashion,France,Jefferson, Thomas,Paris

Tranquil Pleasures vs Empty Bustle?

Anne Willing (1764-1801) was one of the most beautiful women in Philadelphia and William Bingham was one of America’s richest men. The two married in 1780 when she was sixteen. The couple traveled to Europe in 1783 where they spent three years impressing and being impressed by both English and French nobility. Thomas Jefferson who was serving as American minister to France became one of Anne’s friends. Anne admired French salons, the elevated level of discourse on a variety of topics, including politics, that characterized them, and especially the women who organized them. When the Binghams returned to the United States in 1786 Anne determined to become a political hostess in Philadelphia. She promised to let Jefferson know within a year’s time whether a woman’s life in Paris or in America ought to be more admired. He wrote the following letter to her on February 7, 1787 reminding her of her promise. It’s a wonderful and amusing piece of writing that is worth sharing.

I know, Madam, that the twelve month is not yet expired; but it will be, nearly, before this will have the honor of being put into your hands. You are then engaged to tell me, truly and honestly, whether you do not find the tranquil pleasures of America, preferable to the empty bustle of Paris. For to what does that bustle tend? At eleven o’clock, it is day, cher madame. The curtains are drawn. Propped on bolsters and pillows, and her head scratched into a little order, the bulletins of the sick are read, and the billets of the well. She writes to some of her acquaintance, and receives the visits of others. If the morning is not very thronged, she is able to get out and hobble round the cage of the Palais royal; but she must hobble quickly, for the coeffeur’s turn is come; and a tremendous turn it is! Happy, if he does not make her arrive when dinner is half over! The torpitude of digestion a little passed, she flutters half an hour through the streets, by way of paying visits, and then to the spectacles. These finished, another half hour is devoted to dodging in and out of the doors of her very sincere friends, and away to supper. After supper, cards; and after cards, bed; to rise at noon the next day, and to tread, like a mill horse, the same trodden circle over again. Thus the days of life are consumed, one by one, without an object beyond the present moment; ever flying from the ennui of that, yet carrying it with us; eternally in pursuit of happiness, which keeps eternally before us. If death or bankruptcy happen to trip us out of the circle, it is matter for the buz of the evening, and is completely forgotten by the next morning. In America, on the other hand, the society of your husband, the fond cares for the children, the arrangements of the house, the improvements of the grounds, fill every moment with a healthy and an useful activity. Every exertion is encouraging, because to present amusement, it joins the promise of some future good. The intervals of leisure are filled by the society of real friends, whose affections are not thinned to cob-web, by being spread over a thousand objects. This is the picture, in the light it is presented to my mind; now let me have it in yours. If we do not concur this year, we shall the next; or if not then, in a year or two more. You see I am determined not to suppose myself mistaken. . . .
Shall I fill [a] box with caps, bonnets, &c.? Not of my own choosing, but—I was going to say, of Mademoiselle Bertin’s, forgetting for the moment, that she . . . is bankrupt. They shall be chosen then by whom you please; or, if you are altogether nonplused by her eclipse, we will call an Assemblee des Notables, to help you out of the difficulty, as is now the fashion. In short, honor me with your commands of any kind, and they shall be faithfully executed. The packets now established from Havre to New York, furnish good opportunities of sending whatever you wish.
I shall end where I began, like a Paris day, reminding you of your engagement to write me a letter of respectable length, an engagement the more precious to me, as it has furnished me the occasion, after presenting my respects to Mr. Bingham, of assuring you of the sincerity of those senti-ments of esteem and respect, with which I have the honor to be, Dear Madam,
your most obedient and most humble servant,

Read Anne Willing Bingham’s reply in the next post.

Find Jefferson’s letter online HERE. The portrait (1797) by Gilbert Stuart is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

posted April 7th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,Jefferson, Thomas,Paris

“Balloon mania”

The Montgolfier brothers launched their first balloon (powered by hot air) in June of 1783. Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers, Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis, launched a hydrogen balloon from the Champs de Mars in Paris on August 27, 1783 before a huge crowd of onlookers. The balloon landed 45 kilometers away where it was attacked and destroyed by frightened peasants with pitchforks.
Another Montgolfier balloon, this time carrying sheep, a duck, and a rooster in a basket attached to the balloon, rose into the sky on September 19. The craft landed safely with the animals no less the worse for wear.
These successes spawned a slew of subsequent flights by various engineers and inventors, with human passengers, across the English Channel in 1785 and in 1793 in Philadelphia, the launch of which was watched by George Washington. There were accidents, of course, the first in Ireland in 1785 in which the balloon crashed and nearly destroyed the town of Tullamore by fire.

Percy Bysshe Shelley composed this Sonnet:

To a balloon, laden with Knowledge

Bright ball of flame that thro the gloom of even
Silently takest thine etherial way
And with surpassing glory dimmst each ray
Twinkling amid the dark blue Depths of Heaven
Unlike the Fire thou bearest, soon shall thou
Fade like a meteor in surrounding gloom
Whilst that unquencheable is doomed to glow
A watch light by the patriots lonely tomb
A ray of courage to the opprest & poor,
A spark tho’ gleaming on the hovel’s hearth
Which thro the tyrants gilded domes shall roar
A beacon in the darkness of the Earth
A Sun which oer the renovated scene
Shall dart like Truth where Falshood yet has been.

Not everyone welcomed this fascination with flight. One author wrote: “Let us leave to each its domain,/ God made the skies for the birds;/ To the fishes, He gave the waters./ And to the humans, the Earth./ Let us cultivate it, my dear friends.”
But the balloon craze hit hard and was reflected in dress and hair styles, fashion accessories like cuff links and fans, furniture and snuff boxes, as well as many commemorative objects. And it was the subject of satire. Here are some examples.

You can even buy fabric (below on right) depicting airborne balloons for your walls today at 78 £ per meter.

posted July 20th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Art,Fashion,France,Paris,Philadelphia,Poetry,Washington, George

“Globes fill’d with inflammable air”

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY wrote one last letter to MARY WHITE MORRIS from Paris in September of 1783, a short letter as she had just written a long one to her mother. (See previous posts here, here, here, and here.) She took the opportunity to tell her friend about the ascent of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon and the “balloonmania” it was causing.

I find myself too weak to indulge myself [in writing a long letter] you will however my dear friend take the will for the deed & excuse rather than blame me. . . . As the experiments that have been made & are daily making of Globes fill’d with inflammable air occasions various speculations & furnishes matters for a variety of conjectures I doubt not but accounts have already reach’d you of the experiment lately made near Paris, & therefore take the liberty of sending you the engravings copy’d from it. It is confidently reported that the colours of the ba[ll] (which you’ll perceive is of a yellowish cast) will be the ton [fashion color] for next winter & there are already handkerchiefs à la ballon. . . . With best Compts to mr morris, I remain dear madam
Yours &c
Sa. Jay

See the letter about the balloon ascent Sarah wrote to her husband who was in England.

The letter in this post is from the Robert Morris Collection at the Henry E. Huntington Library. The balloon pictured is a model of the Montgolfier balloon on display at the Science Museum in the UK, as is the commemorative teapot. The handkerchief commemorating the first ascent of a hydrogen-filled hot air balloon at the Tuileries is of block-printed cotton, Alsace (France), ca.1783, and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

posted July 16th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fashion,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Morris, Mary White,Paris

“. . . . the return of Peace”

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY, still in Paris with her husband John in July 1783, wrote again to MARY WHITE MORRIS. (See previous posts here, here, and here.) Sarah was pregnant and gave birth to Ann (Nancy) in August. (Daughter Maria had been born in Madrid in February of 1782; a son Peter Augustus had been entrusted to the care of his Livingston grandparents and aunts at Liberty Hall in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, when the Jays had departed for Spain in 1779.) The Preliminary Articles of Peace, which John Jay had helped negotiate, had been ratified by Congress in April, and the Definitive Treaty ending the Revolution would be signed in Paris in September. A busy time.

Your very friendly letter my dr madam dated the 5th of Janry last, did not reach me until the 20th of May, & was the first I had the pleasure of receiving from you for the space of 12 or 15 months, therefore you’ll readily believe that nothing could be more acceptable to me.
You do me justice my dear madam in believing that the sincere attachment I feel for mr. Morris & yourself is extended to yr. children; for permit me to assure you that nothing could afford either mr. Jay or myself greater pleasure than opportunities of serving them; indeed my chagrin at parting with them was heighten’d by the reflection that I shd now be depriv’d of the pleasure of evincing my friendship for their parents by attentions to them. Mr. Jay obtain’d a promise from Robt. to write him once a fortnight, but Tommy seem’d to think the request rather large as he had other correspondants, & therefore did not positively acquiese in the proposal, at least as to the frequency. Mr. Ridley has already recd. letters from them expressing their satisfaction with their situation, & I was not a little pleased to find that they still remembred us.—they are amiable sensible boys, & I think promise to repay the tenderness & liberality of their indulgent parents. . . .
Thank you my dr madam for your congratulations on the return of Peace, & most sincerely partake yr. joy in that event, not only on account of the [?] of blessings that our country will derive from it, but likewise for the flattering prospect it affords me of embracing in a few months my dr mrs. morris & other amiable friends—
Kitty [Sarah’s sister, Kitty Livingston] you say intends leaving you soon—how I pity her feelings on that occasion, for tho’ tis true that an affecte. mother & sister whom she loves attend to with impatience her return to them, yet, where so much gratitude & esteem is due, a sensible heart like hers must melt at separation—how delicately does my dr. mrs. morris insinuate herself into the hearts of her friends—she knows too well the friend she writes to doubt the pleasure she receives from her obliging expression of regret at parting with her sister.
If yr sweet little Maria is grown out of my remembrance, how much must miss hetty be altered [Maria and Hetty were Morris children]—please to embrace them both for me & believe me to be most sincerely attached to you & yours. . . .
Mr Jay joins with me in assurances of regard & esteem for you & mr morris
I am dear Madam
Yours &c.
Sa. Jay —
Mrs. Morris/To be presented by Captn Barney

Mary Morris was undoubtedly grateful for Sarah’s news of her children who had been sent to Europe to be educated. Matthew Ridley was a family friend who would marry Sarah’s sister Kitty after his first wife’s death. Kitty spent a great deal of time with the Morrises in Philadelphia, leaving her mother in the care of her sister Susan in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Sarah’s father William Livingston, governor of New Jersey, commander of the state militia, delegate to the various Congresses, and signer-to-be of the Constitution, was away a good deal. His home, Liberty Hall, was ransacked by both British and American troops who alternatively occupied it as battle lines shifted. The family sought refuge with friends or relatives.

Robert Morris Collection, Henry E. Huntington Library. The illustration is of the final page of the Peace Treaty affixed with the seals of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and the British negotiator David Hartley.

posted July 13th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Children,Education,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Morris, Mary White,Paris,Ridley, Matthew,Treaty of Paris, 1783

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