A Bundle of Letters by Henry James


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Page 1

I gave you my first impressions of Paris, which quite came up to my
expectations, much as I had heard and read about it. The objects of
interest are extremely numerous, and the climate is remarkably cheerful
and sunny. I should say the position of woman here was considerably
higher, though by no means coming up to the American standard. The
manners of the people are in some respects extremely peculiar, and I feel
at last that I am indeed in _foreign parts_. It is, however, a truly
elegant city (very superior to New York), and I have spent a great deal
of time in visiting the various monuments and palaces. I won't give you
an account of all my wanderings, though I have been most indefatigable;
for I am keeping, as I told you before, a most _exhaustive_ journal,
which I will allow you the _privilege_ of reading on my return to Bangor.
I am getting on remarkably well, and I must say I am sometimes surprised
at my universal good fortune. It only shows what a little energy and
common-sense will accomplish. I have discovered none of these objections
to a young lady travelling in Europe by herself of which we heard so much
before I left, and I don't expect I ever shall, for I certainly don't
mean to look for them. I know what I want, and I always manage to get
it.

I have received a great deal of politeness--some of it really most
pressing, and I have experienced no drawbacks whatever. I have made a
great many pleasant acquaintances in travelling round (both ladies and
gentlemen), and had a great many most interesting talks. I have
collected a great deal of information, for which I refer you to my
journal. I assure you my journal is going to be a splendid thing. I do
just exactly as I do in Bangor, and I find I do perfectly right; and at
any rate, I don't care if I don't. I didn't come to Europe to lead a
merely conventional life; I could do that at Bangor. You know I never
_would_ do it at Bangor, so it isn't likely I am going to make myself
miserable over here. So long as I accomplish what I desire, and make my
money hold out, I shall regard the thing as a success. Sometimes I feel
rather lonely, especially in the evening; but I generally manage to
interest myself in something or in some one. In the evening I usually
read up about the objects of interest I have visited during the day, or I
post up my journal. Sometimes I go to the theatre; or else I play the
piano in the public parlour. The public parlour at the hotel isn't much;
but the piano is better than that fearful old thing at the Sebago House.
Sometimes I go downstairs and talk to the lady who keeps the books--a
French lady, who is remarkably polite. She is very pretty, and always
wears a black dress, with the most beautiful fit; she speaks a little
English; she tells me she had to learn it in order to converse with the
Americans who come in such numbers to this hotel. She has given me a
great deal of information about the position of woman in France, and much
of it is very encouraging. But she has told me at the same time some
things that I should not like to write to you (I am hesitating even about
putting them into my journal), especially if my letters are to be handed
round in the family. I assure you they appear to talk about things here
that we never think of mentioning at Bangor, or even of thinking about.
She seems to think she can tell me everything, because I told her I was
travelling for general culture. Well, I _do_ want to know so much that
it seems sometimes as if I wanted to know everything; and yet there are
some things that I think I don't want to know. But, as a general thing,
everything is intensely interesting; I don't mean only everything that
this French lady tells me, but everything I see and hear for myself. I
feel really as if I should gain all I desire.

I meet a great many Americans, who, as a general thing, I must say, are
not as polite to me as the people over here. The people over
here--especially the gentlemen--are much more what I should call
_attentive_. I don't know whether Americans are more _sincere_; I
haven't yet made up my mind about that. The only drawback I experience
is when Americans sometimes express surprise that I should be travelling
round alone; so you see it doesn't come from Europeans. I always have my
answer ready; "For general culture, to acquire the languages, and to see
Europe for myself;" and that generally seems to satisfy them. Dear
mother, my money holds out very well, and it _is_ real interesting.




CHAPTER II


FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME.

September 16th.

Since I last wrote to you I have left that hotel, and come to live in a
French family. It's a kind of boarding-house combined with a kind of
school; only it's not like an American hoarding-house, nor like an
American school either. There are four or five people here that have
come to learn the language--not to take lessons, but to have an
opportunity for conversation. I was very glad to come to such a place,
for I had begun to realise that I was not making much progress with the
French. It seemed to me that I should feel ashamed to have spent two
months in Paris, and not to have acquired more insight into the language.
I had always heard so much of French conversation, and I found I was
having no more opportunity to practise it than if I had remained at
Bangor. In fact, I used to hear a great deal more at Bangor, from those
French Canadians that came down to cut the ice, than I saw I should ever
hear at that hotel. The lady that kept the books seemed to want so much
to talk to me in English (for the sake of practice, too, I suppose), that
I couldn't bear to let her know I didn't like it. The chambermaid was
Irish, and all the waiters were German, so that I never heard a word of
French spoken. I suppose you might hear a great deal in the shops; only,
as I don't buy anything--I prefer to spend my money for purposes of
culture--I don't have that advantage.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 16th Jul 2019, 12:39