Sunday, May 24, 2009

a place of the largest liberty

Emerson writes another long letter to his wife, Lydian:
Paris, 24, May, 1848       
Dear Lidian, I have this night received your letter of 7 May, describing the several & general joy of you all in the most beautiful spring days. And beside Ellen's joys, she or Edie has sent me an honest violet which I heartily accept as a kind of "dry light." This time you send me none but good news and Elizabeth Hoar sends pure wine too. I wish Ellery, & Henry Thoreau had written a benediction also. From what you say & from what they do not say, I infer, that I write very bad letters all the time. 'Tis very likely, for in every letter you say that you show them to all your friends, and at the same time entreat me if I have any confessions to make not omit them by the next post. I find Paris a place of the largest liberty that is, I suppose, in the civilized world; and I am thankful for it, just as I am for etherization, as a resource when the accident of any hideous surgery threatens me; so Paris in the contingency of my ever needing a place of diversion and independence; this shall be my best-bower anchor. All winter I have been admiring the English and disparaging the French. Now in these weeks I have been correcting my prejudice, and the French rise many entire degrees. Their universal good-breeding is a great convenience; and the English and American superstition in regard to broadcloth seems really diminished, if not abolished, here. Knots of people converse everywhere in the street, and the blouse, or shirt-sleeves without blouse, becomes as readily the centre of discourse as any other; and Super-fine and Shirt, who never saw each other before, converse in the most earnest yet deferential way. Nothing like it could happen in England. They are the most joyous race, and put the best face on everything. Paris, to be sure, is their main performance; but one can excuse their vanity and pride, it is so admirable a city. The Seine adorns Paris; the Thames is out of sight in London. The Seine is quayed all the way, so that broad streets on both sides the river, as well as gay bridges, have all the good of it, and the sun and moon and stars look into it and are reflected. At London I cannot remember seeing the river. Here are magnificent gardens, neither too large nor too small for the convenience of the whole people, who spend every evening in them. Here are palaces truly royal. If they have cost a great deal of treasure at some time, they have at least got a palace to show for it, and a church too, in Notre Dame; whilst in England there is no palace, with all their floods of millions of guineas that have been spent. I witnessed the great national fête on Sunday last, when over 120,000 people stood in the Champ de Mars, and it was like an immense family; the perfect good-humor and fellowship is so habitual to them all.. . . You will like to know that I heard Lamartine speak to-day in the Chamber; his great speech, the journals say, on Poland. Mr. Rush lent me his own ticket for the day. He did not speak, however, with much energy, but is a manly, handsome, gray-haired gentleman, with nothing of the rust of the man of letters, and delivers himself with great ease and superiority. Instead of water the huissier put wine beside him, and he also refreshed himself occasionally with snuff. The whole chamber listened to him gladly, for he has mystified people a good deal lately, & all were eager for any distinct impressions from him. The chamber appeared like an honest country representation. [Arthur Hugh] Clough is still here, & is my chief dependence at the dining hour & afterwards. I am to go to a soiree at De Tocqueville's to-night. My French is far from being as good as Madame de Stael's.

Love to all dear children & to dear sisters too who write best letters & get nothing but ingratitude. And to Mother & Aunt Mary & W. & S

Mr Tom Appleton also I like better than any other. I go to London in a few days & am bound there three weeks from 6 June. Then I mean to come home. Farewell, dear wife.


"dry light" — pure unobstructed light; hence, a clear, impartial view. - Bacon.

{Waldo's daughters, Ellen and Edie Emerson; source: historyvortex}

{William Ellery Channing; source:}

{Beginning of a letter of Emerson's of April 1848. The recipient is his London friend, Francis MacDonald, not his wife, Lidian. Source: historyvortex}

{Emerson in 1848 or therabouts; source: historyvortex}

{The first surgical anesthetic use of ether is credited to Dr. Crawford Williamson Long, MD, age 27, of Jefferson, Georgia. On March 30, 1842, he removed one of the two tumors from the neck of Mr. James Venable under ether anesthesia. Source:}

bower anchors: the two largest anchors in a ship. They were usually, but by no means always, carried permanently attached to their cables, one on either bow with the cables running through the hawseholes so that the anchors were always ready for letting go in an emergency. They were originally known as best bower and small bower, but are now just known as the starboard and port bower. (

superstition in regard to broadcloth: This phrase refers to deference given to the upper classes of the society who were sometimes referred to as "broad cloth gentry" from the high-quality, tightly-woven, and expensive broadcloth they wore.

{Lamartine in front of the Hôtel de Ville de Paris, on the 25 February 1848, by Félix Philippoteaux; source:}

Alphonse de Lamartine: Writer and poet, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs from February 24, 1848 to May 11, 1848.

huissier — Huissier From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "The French word huissier comes from huis, that is, a door. The word huissier thus designates two professions that originally had to do with opening and closing doors."

Some sources:

A memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by James Elliot Cabot (Cambridge, Printed at the Riverside Press, 1887)

The selected letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. by Joel Myerson (Columbia University Press, 1999)

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