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Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and Men, V. The swing of the social pendulum. (search)
or important influence upon the mass of the American people. Be this as it may, it is perfectly certain that the whim in fashion thirty and even twenty years ago was quite unlike what it now is. Good Americans were said, when they died, to go to Paris, and even the wit of Tom Appleton never ventured to suggest that they should go to London. At Newport it was for many years held essential to do things in the French way, not the English. It was at the French court that fashionable Americans yearned to be presented; they uniformly preferred to live on the other side of the English Channel; and I remember to have had this explained to me by a man of some fashion, on the ground that if an ambitious American family lived in Paris they were not vexed at being omitted from this or that entertainment of the nobility; whereas in England, where their own language was spoken, that sort of omission chafed them far more. The reason thus assigned may have been flimsy, but the fact recognized w
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and Men, chapter 19 (search)
nd (grassator vocabatur). Hence we were slower to assert ourselves in these finer arts, and when we did, it was with becoming modesty. It was thought daring in Emerson to sing of the bumblebee, or Lowell of the bobolink; as for Whittier, who had never even crossed the Atlantic, how could he sing at all? Especially in the realm of manners this humility has prevailed. During the last French Empire it used to be held at Newport and New York that there was no standard of good-breeding but in Paris, as if the best-bred American society were not of older tradition as well as better strain than the dynasty of the Napoleons. The truth is that the finest American manners are indigenous, not imported. You will find such manners in little towns in Virginia and Kentucky, where not a person has ever seen Europe, and where to have been to Philadelphia or New York is to be a great traveller. Never have I seen more truly gracious and dignified manners than in the little Boston and Cambridge of
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and Men, chapter 20 (search)
at most strikes me is this; We have in school a lovely girl from the country. She is rustic, shy, lovely, and dainty. She reminds me of what Ruskin says somewhere, that perhaps the time will come when we shall say, He has beautiful manners; he is really quite rustic. I dare say that this writer may not know, for she may not have been in France just at that time, how a good deal of what Ruskin suggests as possible became actual during the last French Empire. A friend of mine who was in Paris during that period was repeating to an accomplished Frenchman a delicate witticism. Ha! said his hearer, that is admirable — that smacks of the provinces (cela sent les provinces). My friend expressed surprise at the remark, having always supposed that, to a Parisian, all that was provincial seemed dull or vulgar; but his companion explained that so many of the more refined and cultivated families had confined themselves to their country residences in order to escape the carnival of vulgar
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and Men, chapter 42 (search)
ts of the United States; and with our nation as a whole the great bulk is still enormously in the ranks of rural life. It would be easy to show that this change goes far beyond the English-speaking nations. The concentration of French life in Paris has long been seen and lamented, and it has extended so far that the provinces are hardly credited with independent opinions. To ask what the provinces think, said a celebrated Frenchman, is like asking what a man's legs think. The practice of properties everywhere had tended, it was supposed, to anchor the French peasantry to the soil, and yet the latest observers point out that this tic is wholly ineffectual. In the first number of the Quarterly Journal of Economics its enlightened Paris correspondent, Arthur Mangin, says that in France the development of industrial labor and the great works undertaken by the State and by .cities have brought about a steady emigration of peasants to the cities, and a rise in agricultural wages, w
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and Men, chapter 44 (search)
in what part of the country they are produced than in what part of a man's farm — the northeast or south-west corner-he raises those fine apples. Where there is a good author, there is the beginning of a literary centre; where MacGregor sits, there is the head of the table. We are all enriched when Miss Murfree suddenly reveals to us a new literary centre in Tennessee, or Miss Edith Thomas in Ohio, or Hubert Bancroft in San Francisco. The concentration of literature into a new London or Paris is not to be expected among us, perhaps not to be desired. That implies a small and highly centralized civilization, whose outskirts shall be as little given to literature as the English colonies or the French provinces; whereas what we need is the development of a high literary life through a number of different fountain-heads. The nation should produce its fair share of the recognized masterpieces of the world's literature-or, if you please, of the works which are still masterpieces, tho
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and Men, chapter 52 (search)
are now practically grown up, and whose early training was much the same. She too had little to do with children in her youth ; but her only sister once said to me, I always knew thatwould be a good mother. When we had paper dolls, she always knew just where each one was, and what clothes it needed. She manages her children just as she did her paper dolls. How curious is this world of dolls!-uncouth and savage in Alaska, quaint in Japan, strong and solidly built in Germany, graceful in Paris. You can tell German dolls from French, it is said, by the greater clumsiness of the extremities; no matter how pretty the face, the feet and ankles are those of a peasant. In both countries, I believe, artificers visit the rural villages to study new faces for their dolls, as in ancient Greece the sculptors travelled about the country looking for beautiful forms. Everywhere the doll is to the child the symbol of humanity — the first object of responsibility, the type of what is lovable,
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Women and Men, chapter 55 (search)
to misunderstand people, even whole races at a time. We insist on saying that Frenchmen, for instance, have no love of their home because they call it chez moi, forgetting that this moi identifies the abode with its proprietor far more unequivocally than the English word. You may speak of some one else as also having a home, but chez moi can belong to the speaker alone. So in regard to the selection of a place where to fix one's abode; we all assume that every Frenchman wishes to live in Paris, when in truth almost every Frenchman, if born in the country, dreams always of retiring to a little estate of his own, where for the rest of his life he may patrol the woods in long gaiters, and occasionally shoot at a cock-sparrow. We all observe this home-loving spirit in the French Canadians, who are perhaps more thoroughly French than anybody left in France. Now this dream which exists in the transatlantic mind is to be found also in the migrating Americans. The country boy who ha