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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

He Dines with a Literary Woman

By Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816)

[Morris’s Diary in France.—From The Life of Gouverneur Morris. By Jared Sparks. 1832.]

MONSIEUR LE COMTE DE NENNI does me the honor of a visit, and detains me till three o’clock. I then set off in great haste to dine with the Comtesse de B., on an invitation of a week’s standing. Arrive at about a quarter-past three, and find in the drawing-room some dirty linen and no fire. While a waiting-woman takes away one, a valet lights up the other. Three small sticks in a deep bed of ashes give no great expectation of heat. By the smoke, however, all doubts are removed respecting the existence of fire. To expel the smoke, a window is opened, and, the day being cold, I have the benefit of as fresh air as can reasonably be expected in so large a city.

Toward four o’clock the guests begin to assemble, and I begin to expect that, as Madame is a poetess, I shall have the honor to dine with that exalted part of the species, who devote themselves to the Muses. In effect, the gentlemen begin to compliment their respective works, and as regular hours cannot be expected in a house, where the mistress is occupied more with the intellectual, than the material world, I have a delightful prospect of a continuance of the scene. Toward five, Madame steps in to announce dinner, and the hungry poets advance to the charge. As they bring good appetites, they have certainly reason to praise the feast. And I console myself in the persuasion, that, for this day at least, I shall escape an indigestion. A very narrow escape too, for some rancid butter, of which the cook had been liberal, puts me in bodily fear. If the repast is not abundant, we have at least the consolation, that there is no lack of conversation. Not being perfectly master of the language, most of the jests escaped me. As for the rest of the company, each being employed either in saying a good thing, or in studying one to say, it is no wonder if he cannot find time to applaud that of his neighbor. They all agree, that we live in an age alike deficient in justice and in taste. Each finds in the fate of his own works numerous instances to justify this censure. They tell me, to my great surprise, that the public now condemn theatrical compositions, before they have heard the first recital. And to remove my doubts, the Countess is so kind as to assure me, that this rash decision has been made on one of her own pieces. In pitying modern degeneracy, we rise from the table.

I take my leave immediately after the coffee, which by no means dishonors the precedent repast; and Madame informs me that on Tuesdays and Thursdays she is always at home, and will always be glad to see me. While I stammer out some return to the compliment, my heart, convinced of my unworthiness to partake of such attic entertainments, makes me promise never again to occupy the place from which, perhaps, I had excluded a worthier personage.