Letter from Jessie Benton Frémont to Elizabeth Blair Lee, July 19, 1857

    Source citation
    Frémont, Jessie Benton, to Elizabeth Blair Lee, St. Germain en Laye, 19 July 1857. As
    printed in The Letters of Jessie Benton Frémont, eds. Pamela Herr and Mary Lee
    Spence. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993, p. 160-163.
    Author (from)
    Jessie Benton Frémont
    Recipient (to)
    Lee, Elizabeth Blair
    Date Certainty
    Meghan Fralinger
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible.
    To Elizabeth Blair Lee

    St. Germain en Laye
    July 19th 1857

    My dear Lizzie

    The first flight of my butterfly (I hope you admire it as much as I do) is to Silver Spring where to use the words of an author we all admire “it finds among grass and flowers its natural and appropriate home.”

    I am wanting to hear from you very much-it seems a great deal longer than a month since we left home and in that time I have had no letters except from Mr. Fremont. Tell me exactly how you are- this will get to you very shortly before your confinement and you may be sure that from under your own roof there will not be another such anxious heart as mine. I think above all women I know, except Liz, you have the most right-under the promise to length of days, for you have truly honored your patients. With that you have loving care around you and Dr. May is eminently skillful.

    I am full of concern for Susan who starts on her long journey tomorrow with the great disadvantage of being two months enceinte. I have asked in vain to have Pensee left with me, the little thing is teething and although sound and well now may not resist the heats of the Red Sea as well and by that time fatigue will be doubly disagreeable to Susan. She will not hear of it however. With the addition of a war in India the resources for coolness are cut off, for the summer retreat of the English was where the worst of the rebellion now is. I should think our southern people might take a lesson from this Indian uprising. While one is filled with the deepest pity and horror for their cruel fates of the English there we can but remember how the natives have had to provoke them. No well written dispatches tell us how many native women met revolting fates at the hands of the English. We know in other ways that when a native prince was “subdued” his household met “the fate of war.” It seems they remember it among themselves. Calcutta is in safety and if there should be any doubt about it Boilleau’s instructions have been altered to this week to meet the case and he has the range of the Indian ocean and all it washes.

    Susan is very well this time-no sickness. One whim only has seized her and that is an entire aversion & disgust to every thing French except French washing (I mean doing up her clothes). It is funny to see how she has reversed her tone. She says Boilleau has nothing French in him and talks to Pensee in English. She protests roast mutton is better than any French cooking & what is more absolutely she eats it. Boilleau and I laugh at it & say it will last to the frontier when she will change again.

    We are charmingly placed here. This old castle is really old and is dilapidated enough to let the sunshine strike through its broken windows & doors and shine out the other side just as in pictures of ruins. We have a house on the terrace-a high table land some five hundred feet in a steep ascent from the beautiful valley of the Seine which lies at our feet. We are only ten miles from Paris and get to town with less thought & in less time than you do. We are three minutes walk from the station which is a fine affair of iron pillars & glass roof as large as the President’s house-the train has its 1st, 2d & 3 class carriages. The 2d are like ours only divided into seats for ten-the 1st are admirably built like private carriages ten feet wide with seats for eight. You buy your ticket & it secures your seat, a privilege we do not have in our country. The station in town is ten minutes walk from the Tuileries & the best show places-no noise or confusion or crowding, all is regulated and orderly with policemen in every direction who answer questions or get you a carriage or do anything you need done. We have indulged ourselves with quiet and rest since getting here. One morning we went to see the pictures of this year’s exhibit because there were several there of modern subjects & people. The Empress on foot & on horseback, with her child in the nursery & in the salon receiving Queen Victoria- who has been made by the artist (Frenchman of course) to look as hot and stout and ill dressed as he dared, while the Empress cool and elegant and in the most delicate of morning dress us making her graceful salute. The Emperor’s favorites are there large as life- their portraits attracting knots of people. Isn’t it an odd country where they care so little for that? How long would the English let a portrait of Prince Albert’s mistress hang with that of the Queen. We are in a rustic atmosphere of simplicity and sobriety of every kind. There are many good French and English families here for the season which last to October. Our next neighbor is the son of the great Wilberforce. We go to the same church & visit each other. Mrs. Wilberforce and himself have some of their grandchildren with them and Charley plays with them every morning. Our grounds are divided only by a little hedge. We have only a room for service here and about a hundred in the congregation. Charley behaves himself beautifully there, and is improving in every way. “Pauk” as he calls himself is growing visibly- he will be very tall and is a beauty. Nina &Lily walk every morning in the forest with the two little boys and Meme. I did not tell you that in front of our house was the forest-a true forest of twenty one miles enclosed by a wall. Real trees & grass with lakes & deer-and rabbits innumerable. Their usual walk is to a lake two miles from the castle and with their divergings in the wood they make about five miles each day. They do that from seven to nine or ten-having first taken bread & milk-Nina her chocolate. At eleven we have our breakfast which is the best meal of the day to me, taken at the hour I like. One dish of mean, two of vegetables, curds & fruit. Then come lessons until two, then the rest as it is warmer weather. At six we dine and at half past seven we are on the fashionable promenade here which is a high walk on the edge of the steep hills- trees & the forest are on one side and the other slops down to the Seine, vines covering it thickly all the way. In the distance lies Paris & we see the railway trains sending their white smoke in a dozen different directions over the wide view. There we sit on straw chairs, or walk, a military band playing, until nine when even the long twilight of this latitude begins to fall. I have a very good piano which with books gives us employment at odd times. At ten the girls go to bed. Charley & Frank at 8 & I later. I won’t say how much. All our former servants are in their old places. They all gathered up & were ready for me – quitting other places without scruple. I have a man cook, a head man, & an under one, Marie & Meme-the gardener & the lodge keeper are included in the house rent. The house is three stories with eight fine rooms and several smaller ones on each floor-there are carriage house & stables with a pretty porter’s lodge & servants’ rooms, every place is prettily furnished-all clean as sunshine-in every room mirrors, fine clocks & vases, all the beds & windows very prettily curtained, china, glass, and everything except house linen & silver, for three hundred dollars a month. That does not include the wages of my own servants but they cost me only half what my New York household did. The living here is less than in New York and no pen can do justice to the cooking.

    I go into all these details because I know you like to picture us to yourselves & I have given you our life for the last fortnight, which will be the same until Mr. Fremont comes in October. If you are not tired of me I will give some of the rest to your father. Yours most affcty,

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