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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

Shakers, Politicians, and Matchmakers

New York, August 5, '60.

...Let me tell you about Lebanon, the village of the Shaking-Quakers, for such is the name of 500 or 600 fools that harm no one and spend their time cleaning their houses and working with straw. They claim that it is not with the heart and lips alone that one should pray to the Creator, but with the entire body; and they put this theory into practice by performing the most bizarre dance during worship. Every part of the body--arms, head, legs--is set in motion, and if you allow yourself to laugh, you are immediately asked to leave.

Everyone is admitted into the midst of the congregation, provided that they will dance, an exercise which is somewhat hot at this time of the year. The Quakers are of both sexes, but they don't have the right to communicate with one another. Upon entering into the congregation, they give up all their possessions, which are used in proselytizing. their great hope is that at a certain future time, when everyone will have become Quakers, the world will come to an end!

Should I tell you about Saratoga? You have to be an American and to have lived in America in order to understand what Saratoga is. It is a watering place where you drink waters without feeling thirsty, where people come together to enjoy themselves, but where no one gets any enjoyment. You never leave the hotel except to swallow dust or to let yourself get covered with mire. Here everybody dances, and swears at the heat. Here they let you starve to death, telling you all day that they are going to feed you soon. Here you see people of all varieties and opinions. All America is represented here.

The politicians hold daily meetings where they discuss opposing views. Young ladies put on a different dress every day to attract admirers. When one of them has a number of men around her, she encourages them all until she finally comes to a decision in favor of one of them. On several occasions I took part in these manoeuvers as a confidant, and it was quite amusing, I assure you. The young ladies give their handkerchiefs, their gloves, even their slippers, but that doesn't mean a thing. The married women are less txtravagant, although they make exceptions in the case of a few persons. According to my calculation, I have a pretty collection of pocket handkerchiefs, for I never ask for anything else.

The day before I left, there was a huge meeting in favor of Douglas, where the speakers called the residents of the South rascals, traitors, etc. To display even greater enthusiasm, the partisans of the "Little Giant" [Senator douglas] put a barrel of tar and of resin in the middle of the street and set fire to it. The flame was beautiful. Suddenly there arrived an omnibus driven by a coachman of a different party. In this country coachmen are great politicos. He directed his vehicle onto the barrel, which overturned and shattered into pieces, and in a second, the inflammable matter spread and caused a fire that the people in the meeting had to extinguish themselves. What rascals all these people are!

New Port [Rhode Island], August 16, '60.

...All New York society is assembled here. Boston, Philadelphia, and especially the South have amply sent their share...Here people do a lot of "cottaging," that is, they pass the time visiting and meeting in small, intimate parties at the homes of those who have cottages. Belmont has rented a very beautiful house and "entertains" with very good taste.

New Port is the refuge of almost all the cities of the Union, because it is quite cool during the periods of intolerable heat in New York. It is here that you can made studies of American manners!

The matchmaking that goes on! [The saying goes,] "Every young lady has to look out for herself," and applies herself ardently to the pursuit of a husband. There is nothing so amusing as to be a disinterested spectator of all the endless, little intrigues. I am behind the scenes, generally being friendly with the mothers and the married women. Since the young ladies know that I am not "on the market," [Salomon de Rothschild was betrothed to his cousin Adele] they leave me on the sidelines and are not afraid to confide secrets to me...

It is very amusing to follow the young ladies in their diplomatic negotiations. They put into them more tricks and pranks than the signatories of the Treaty of Paris. they are charming with everyone, giving hope to all, but they never lose from sight the handsome young man or the large fortune on which they have set their choice. The thing I can't understand is that, after being so close to so many young men, these women become such faithful wives. They say here that it's love that works this miracle, but I think the husband's revolver and knife help most in frightening gentlemen friends away. Besides, the social constitution of the country is such that society throws the blame on the man as much as on the lady, and always backs up the husband regardless of what his wrongs may be.

Nevertheless, I'll tell you that a foreigner has the right to be somewhat dumbfounded when, at ten o'clock at night, he sees a gentleman returning with a married or unmarried lady, who had gone off by themselves for a walk or for a carriage ride or a horseback ride...