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Chapter 11: Paris.—its schools.—January and February, 1838.—Age, 27.

During his first week in Paris, Sumner found no time to continue his journal. ‘In this hasty diary,’ he wrote, a few weeks later, ‘there is no memorial of my first week. Suffice it to say that I was kept in such an intoxicating whirl by the novelty which every thing had for my eyes, and every moment of my time was so intensely occupied, that I found not a fraction for this record. Of the letters which I brought to Paris I presented but few, feeling my utter incompetence for any French intercourse from my ignorance of the language.’

His first call was upon Foelix,1 the editor of the Revue Étrangere, with whom he had, before leaving home, exchanged letters. With him Sumner maintained, while in Paris, the most cordial relations. Foelix, by the place of his birth and early life which had passed from one sovereignty to another, combined in himself, as it were, two nationalities,—the German and the French. He was cosmopolitan in his learning and sympathies, and studied jurisprudence as a science. He had a large acquaintance with contemporary savans, and in conversation spoke unreservedly of their merits or pretensions. He was not above the everyday services which are invaluable to a foreign student not yet familiar with the country, its language, teachers, and authors. Sumner visited him freely, and seems to have regarded him, while in Paris, very much as he had regarded Lieber at home. [227] He was also indebted to Foelix for a personal introduction to Pardessus. Of comparative jurisprudence, which was the specialty of Foelix, Sumner spoke, some years afterwards, as ‘kindred to those other departments of knowledge which exhibit the relations of the human family, and show that amidst diversity there is unity.’2

In a letter to Judge Story, Jan. 21, he wrote of his first call on Foelix:—

In No. 7 Rue de Verneuil, Foelix, with two maiden sisters, occupied an apartment on what we should call the second floor. On being shown into the room of the learned Pundit, I summoned all my French, and asked, ‘Est-ce Monsieur Foelix, que j'ai l'honneur de voir?’ to which he replied in the affirmative. I then said, ‘Je m'appelle Charles Sumner.’ His reply convinced me that I had pronounced my French so badly that he did not understand me, for he inquired if I had seen Mr. Sumner lately. Then ensued a series of contretemps. He did not speak a word of English; and my French was no more fit for use than a rusty gun-barrel, or than the law of a retired barrister. Then came to our assistance his sister,—a lady, say thirty-five or forty. She knew English so as to speak it pretty well, though rather painfully. With her as interpreter, I made known who I was, whence I came, &c. I presented my letters and answered Foelix's inquiries, particularly with regard to you. I very soon found, however, that our mutual ignorance of any language which could serve as a medium for conversation would render our intercourse of but little interest for the present. Foelix is a German by birth, you know, and retains those national features which have continued from the time of Tacitus. He is about the size of Dr. Follen, only somewhat stouter, with hair on his head quite thin but not gray. I should call him fifty-five years old. He is not a man of the world or of dress, but he is absorbed in his Review, upon which he works very hard, and seems full of the dignity and importance of his vocation. In his study, or office, which is a room about as large as your parlor, sat his eldest sister busily engaged in copying papers. I have understood that she is a perfect lawyer, having diligently read all the codes; and that she assists him very much in his Review. I was amused at the interest which he took in having me economically established. When I informed him where my lodgings were,—being in one of the hotels on the boulevards,—he expressed an orthodox German horror, and told me I must abandon them immediately; and he assisted me in getting lodgings on the same side of the river with himself. I have changed again since he established me, and am now in the same house with George Shattuck.3 You may be glad to hear that he is doing more honor to himself and his country than any other young American has done since James Jackson.4 [228] Travel and residence abroad have had their best influence upon him. . . . Have you read Tocqueville's ‘Democracy in America’?

During his first two months in Paris, Sumner employed his time almost solely in acquiring the capacity to speak the French language. He had studied it in college, but could not use it in conversation. Repeatedly, in his journal and letters, he lamented this deficiency in his education. To Hillard he wrote, Jan. 6: ‘I shall renounce every thing until I learn to speak French. To that my first labors must be devoted. Think of me coming by childlike progression to the use of my tongue, hearing sounds which convey no idea, and thus, in a degree, debarred from the society and scenes of this great metropolis.’ Most of the time he took lessons of two teachers; he became a subscriber at Galignani's reading-room; frequented theatres, following the actors with the printed play before him; and attended lectures, not merely those which treated of his favorite studies, but those also which related to other departments, in order to become familiar with the sounds of the language. He postponed visits to places of interest, and abstained from society, until he had overcome the difficulty which he so much deplored. His perseverance met with a success which highly gratified him. When he arrived in Paris, he could understand hardly a sentence in French when spoken to him. In less than a month he could follow a lecturer; in six weeks participate in conversation; and at the end of three months he served as interpreter before a magistrate on the examination of a fellow-countryman.

Of the one hundred and fifty or more lectures which he attended, nearly all were given by professors eminent in their respective departments,—as Rossi, Ampere, Lenormant, Biot, Jouffroy, Dumas, and Saint-Marc Girardin. In the hospitals he saw Roux, Louis, Dubois, and Cloquet, attending to patients and followed by students. At the theatres and opera he saw and heard Mars, Georges, Dejazet, Rubini, Tamburini, Lablache, Persiani, and Grisi; in the church, Coquerel; and in the Chambers of Peers and Deputies, Dupin, Berryer, Guizot, Thiers, Odilon Barrot, Arago, and Lamartine.

During his sojourn in Paris, he wrote fully of his experiences to Judge Story, Hillard, Greenleaf, Longfellow, Felton, Cleveland, Charles S. Daveis, Dr. Lieber, and William W. Story. Most of these letters, as well as some to his family, are preserved,—from [229] which extracts, in connection with the journal, will be given. One remarks, in reading his letters, how warm was his affection for his friends, and how much he craved tidings from them. He wrote to Hillard, Jan. 6: ‘I do not forget you and our “Five of clubs” on this my birthday. I wish that we could all meet this evening and renew old scenes and recollections.’ And to Judge Story, Feb. 7: ‘It is now two months since I left the United States, and when I consider what I have seen, and the new impressions I have received, it seems like two years. The time is lengthened by another consideration,—the sense of my solitude, and the cessation of intercourse with those friends to whom I am so tenderly attached. Give me letters! A cup of water was never more inspiriting to the battle-worn soldier than is a letter to me at this distance from friends.’


Jan. 8, 1838 (Monday). This morning went to lodgings on the other side of the river, No. 3 Rue St.

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