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[134] It is impossible to be in Say's presence without feeling you are before a man that thinks independently. All he says has a spirit about it which can be the result only of a well-disciplined mind, and even his native language, equivocal as it is, seems to acquire a precision and definiteness under his hands which are foreign from its nature. I have several times seen him alone; but this evening there was company at his house, and I thought its excitement had a good effect on him, since in general he is too serious and even severe for the French character.

May 14.—This evening I passed delightfully at Benjamin Constant's. It matters little to me what may be thought of him as a politician . . . . I care nothing for all his inconsistency, and forget it all when I am in his presence, and listen to the vivacity and wit of his conversation.

There were several distinguished men of letters there this evening. St. Leon, Lacretelle, Schlegel, etc,—two or three women who are at once wits and belles, etc. . . .

They were all assembled to hear the Baron de Humboldt read some passages out of an unpublished volume of his travels. This is precisely the sort of society that used to assemble in the coteries of the times of Louis XIV. and XV., and it required no great effort of the imagination to persuade me that I was at a soiree of those periods. Everything this evening was purely French; the wit, the criticism, the vivacity, even the good-nature and kindness, had a cast of nationality about them, and took that form which in France is called amiability, but which everywhere else would be called flattery. I was therefore amused, and indeed interested and excited; but the interest and excitement you feel in French society is necessarily transient, and this morning my strongest recollections are of Humboldt's genius and modesty, and his magical descriptions of the scenery of the Orinoco, and the holy solitudes of nature, and the missionaries.

May 16.—M. de Humboldt is certainly one of the most remarkable men I have seen in Europe,—perhaps the most so.1 I was sitting with him to-day, and, turning round, observed a large Mercator's Chart

1 One day Mr. Ticknor was walking in Paris with a friend and townsman, when they met Baron Humboldt. Mr. Ticknor bowed, and was passing on, when Humboldt stopped, and said that there was to be a function at the Institute the next day, and that if Mr. Ticknor would like to be present, he would give him a ticket. The offer was accepted with proper acknowledgments. Humboldt then added, ‘Perhaps your friend would like to go too?’ His companion said he should be very glad, and a ticket was given to him also. As they parted, his friend said, ‘Now, is there a Frenchman in all Paris who would have done this?’

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