Up till now I have talked a great deal about various things and customs in America. When I had occasion to bring a person on the scene, for the most part I used an impersonal designation; I have said that I saw quite “a character” in such and such a place, in another, “a pretty woman.” To give to my readers a more complete and exact idea of the American people, I am going to try to sketch a few pen portraits, and I hope that this gallery of contemporary pictures will give those who read my book as much pleasure as I myself have had in associating with them and in meeting the people who make up my series of medallions.
Mr. Bennett is the son of the celebrated James Gordon Bennett, who founded the New York Herald some thirty years ago. The New York Herald now brings in 2,000,000 francs a year, and to relate how much hard work, perseverance, and genius Gordon Bennett expended to reach this result, I would need more than one volume and only the founder of Le Figaro would be capable of translating it into French with reasonable exactness.
I have often asked myself what would have happened if my friend, H[ippolyte] de Villemessant, and Mr. Gordon Bennett had met in 1848 and what sort of a newspaper would have resulted from the collaboration of the two persons who best understood the men and events of their own era. On reflection, it is better that Fate did not set them on the same road. Villemessant would have kept Mr. James Gordon Bennett at any price and by any means; Paris would have been the gainer, but New York would have been the loser.
The younger Mr. Bennett is thirty years old, and by a piece of luck unusual in hereditary monarchies, he is worthy in every respect to succeed his father. Physically he is a perfect gentleman, tall, dark, pale, and distinguished. As with all those who work hard and possess wealth, his glance is cold and would seem veiled if at times it were not suddenly illuminated by strong emotion.
The proprietor of the New York Herald is certainly aware that he is a man who holds a great place in society; he commands an army of correspondents, faithful, bold, and devoted, always ready at a sign from him to race from one end of the world to the other; he has all over the world as many agents as a great power has consuls, and one would have to reckon in the thousands all the cables he receives and sends. No important event occurs anywhere in the Two Worlds without being described in his newspaper a few hours later.
It is Mr. Bennett who threw away a million francs to get news of the unfortunate Livingstone; and I can remember the sympathetic curiosity which accompanied his reporter, Mr. Stanley, who though he started out at the same time as a hundred other reporters was lucky enough to reach Livingstone first. Bennett’s remarkable aptitude in conducting big business greatly contributes to solidifying and increasing the reputation of the newspaper day by day.
In the midst of such multiple and absorbing affairs, Mr. Bennett is still able to find time for pleasure. He is very fond of Paris and goes there often. He speaks French like a resident of the Boulevard de la Madeleine. One day he took it into his head to cross to England on a yacht upon which Mr. Batbie wouldn’t have dared even to sneeze. Many people heard about this fancy of his and he had many imitators. Two other yachts set off at the same time, fantastic wagers were made, and as always the hero of the New York Herald arrived before the others. Mr. Bennett loves parties and entertains with a prodigality which recalls the best days of the great noblemen of the last century. On one of his estates he has a model horse farm and often has races to which gentlemen riders from all over the United States are invited. The great attraction of these races, which really don’t need any attraction, is that the master of the house furnishes the horses and that the gentleman who wins may take away his horse with him; just as in the old days in our castles the hunters used to take home the game they had killed.
Director Maurice Grau
Quite a young man—scarcely twenty-eight—but who seems to be forty; incessant work, cares of every kind, extraordinary activity, preoccupations every hour of the day have aged him before his time. He has been in a business which is more feverish, more absorbing in America than anywhere else. Already he has won and lost five or six fortunes. A millionaire one day, he is penniless the next, which is not extraordinary. Maurice Grau is often the director of five or six theatres at the same time—Italian Opera in New York, a French theatre in Chicago, an operetta theatre in San Francisco, a theatre giving dramas in English at Havana, and a Spanish comic opera in Mexico.
It is he who brought the famous pianist [Anton] Rubinstein to America. What a tour that was! Two hundred concerts in less than six months! Sometimes two concerts a day.
At the present moment, Maurice Grau is directing Mile Aimée’s company. It is he who has a contract with [Ernesto] Rossi, the great Italian tragedian, who will arrive in two months and will travel for a year with his clever impresario.
Orchestra Conductor Thomas
Thomas: pronounced Thomasse. A violin player—and, it is said, a mediocre player in the opera orchestra in New York—Thomas saw that his position was not making him enough money. He abandoned the violin bow and took up the baton of orchestra leader. In order to distinguish himself from others who merely beat time, he had the wit to create a speciality for himself by making himself the interpreter of the works of Wagner. He soon established a sound artistic reputation.
He is still a young man. One must do him this justice —he has succeeded in bringing together an excellent orchestra. He took the right way to succeed. At any cost he hired the best musicians in America, and he continues to pay them very well. Wherever he goes or whatever he undertakes, he can always count on the help of twelve first-class performers, and so, his orchestra stands out for really marvelous ensemble playing.
As director of an orchestra, Thomas did not seem to me to live up to his reputation; he does not conduct in a clear-cut way. I saw him lead his musicians in some socalled light music by Rossini, Auber, Verdi, and Herold without fire and without rhythm. When he does happen to put energy into his conducting, he waves both arms at the same time and looks from the rear exactly like a big bird attempting to fly.
It is significant that he has a special affection for the music of the director of the Paris Conservatoire, my good friend, Ambroise Thomas; rarely does he fail to put on his program a piece by the author of Mignon. Three-fourths of the time the public is under the impression that it is conductor Thomas who wrote the work.
To sum up, even if Thomas is not a first-rate conductor, he at least has one very real merit; we should be grateful to him for having organized his orchestra so well and for having helped to popularize classical music in America.
A Viennese-Hungarian, born in Italy, a long-time resident of New York, about fifty years of age, an intelligent, witty face, a personality very pleasing to the Americans. Sometimes as director, other times as orchestra leader, he has organized almost all of the companies playing Italian opera in the United States. When the managerial business is bad, which sometimes happens, he becomes orchestra leader; but since he is very popular, as soon as he becomes orchestra leader funds pour in and he is able to form another company. I cannot say if he is a good director, not having seen him at work, but I can say that he is an excellent orchestra leader and, in addition, composes delightful music.
At the present moment, Maretceck is conducting concerts in the Offenbach Garden at Philadelphia. You may be sure that before three months have passed he will lay down his baton to direct another company.
Weber, German-born, is a naturalized American; he has been living in the country for twenty years.
I visited the workshop where he manufactures his pianos. It is magnificently equipped. The proprietor did the honors with perfect good grace. He is a charming man with a sympathetic face, frank and open. Is he a descendant of that famous musician with the same name, Charles Marie Von Weber?—I do not know. I forgot to ask him. In any case, just as the composer was the master of his art, the American Weber is master of his. His pianos are in great demand all over the United States.
Mademoiselle Esmeralda Cervantes
A charming young person who lugs her harp between the Old and New Worlds. As a musician, I recognize her great talent, but she is at fault in putting all her titles on her visiting card. And God knows she has a lot!
I have copied them word for word:
Harpiste des cours royales et impériales de S. M. la reine doña Isabella II, de S. M. le roi don Alfonso XII, de S. M. le roi don Louis I et de S. M. I. l’empereur don Pedro II du Brésil.
Citoyenne honoraire de la République de l’Uruguay, décorée de plusieurs croix et médailles.
Professeur honoraire du conservatoire de Barcelone, présidente du lycée Esmeralda d’Espagne, des sociétés chorales Euterpe, de Montevideo et Esmeralda de Buenos-Ayres, de la société lyrique la Baima, de l’hôpital oriental et de la société de bienfaisance de Buenos-Ayres; membre honoraire de la société chorale Euterpe de Barcelone et de la société de la Torre, de la même ville, de la société philharmonique du Brésil, de la Lyra de Montevideo, des cercles littéraires et de l' Union de Lima, des sociétés de bienfaisance de Beneftciencia, de la société de Caridad, de l’hôpital espagnol et de la société de Miséricorde de Buenos-Ayres, de la Beneftciencia de Rosario et de Valparaiso, de la Beneficiencia españa de Lima, membre de la société de pompiers Callaoy protectrice de la société des Dames du Buen Pastor en Amérique et en Europe.
And to think that Mademoiselle Esmeralda Cervantes is scarcely sixteen years old! What will she be when she reaches her thirtieth year?
Mora is the head of a photographic studio. A superb establishment. He has the most fashionable clientèle imaginable. The prettiest American girls come to pose before his lens. They are right for, if such a thing were possible, Mora would be skillful enough to make them even more beautiful.
He is a miniature painter, specializing in coloring photographs and making real miniatures of them.
I met in New York a person who, starting very low on the social scale, has risen to the rank of Senator by main force. This is not a mere figure of rhetoric. In the beginning a laborer, but endowed with Herculean strength, he gave up the workshop to become a prize fighter and then from the squared circle passed to the upper chamber.
John Morrissey is a young man, very tall and admirably proportioned. Only a slightly flattened nose remains as a souvenir of a memorable fight against another boxer.
After he had made money fighting “the Ramparts of Cincinnati” and the “Terrible Savoyards of Chicago,” the pugilist withdrew from the ring and established two gambling houses, one in New York and the other at Saratoga. Wealth comes quickly in this kind of enterprise, and the retired prize fighter is worth a formidable number of dollars today. Because of his considerable fortune, he is very popular and had no trouble being elected to the Senate.
When you read what has gone before, you perhaps think that the Senator must have retained some coarseness, at least a certain brutality in his manners. An error. He is very gentlemanly, even distinguished, and chats on every subject with a great deal of wit and tact.
In France Harpin, called the “Rampart of Lyons,” would have a great deal of difficulty in spite of the eccentricity of our age in being elected to parliament; but the Devil has lost nothing by it because, more than once, our National Assembly has been transformed into an arena where the fighting was not always polite.