1839: Unknown Gentleman to James Gordon Bennett, Sr.

James Gordon Bennett, Sr.

There are no clues within this letter to reveal the identity of the author of this piece intended for the amusement of high society in New York City.  I feel confidant a well-educated young gentleman who travelled to Italy on his own or with his parents where wealth and/or position (such as the diplomatic corps) entitled them to attend the major social events of the season in Florence, Italy, wrote the letter.

The letter was sent to James Gordon Bennett, Sr., — the editor of the New York Herald. Bennett started the paper in 1835. When he handed the management of the paper over to his son in 1866, it had the highest circulation in America.

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[Addressed to Mr. Bennett, Editor of the [New York] Herald, Ann Street, New York]


If you think he following abstract will not be too flagrant an exposure to the public, I send it to you for insertion. Please to head it with an editorial remark as having been lately received from an American gentleman many years a resident in Florence & moving in the highest circles of society.

[The editor has crossed out the preceding paragraph and written in its place: “The following letter was received by a family in Hudson. We print it as we received it, for what it is worth.”]

Florence, [Italy]
February 20th 1839

I hear there is “una Signorina Vespucci” [a Miss Vespucci] now in New York, claiming the great Americus as ancestor. Probably it is one of the family as there are several daughters, all handsome, but never seen in society here. Young Amerio Vespucci, I am told, is a fine young man, but he is like his sisters out of the pale of society. The Princess of P._____ however, who has a fille des rues, and who ran into Prince P___’s stables & hid herself in the straw to escape being taken up by the police (who afterwards became the mistress of the old Prince –- and on his deathbed – his wife) is at the head of the elite of society, and takes precedence accordingly. “Cosi v ail mondo” [Thus the word goes].

There is a plain slab of worn marble in the floor of the Church of All Saints ([Abbazia de] Ognissante) under which Americus’ bones are interred. If I were rich enough, I would erect a monument to mark the spot. Pray tell -– into immortalizing himself in this way. Tell him I wish he would give me an order to have it done. Two thousand or fifteen hundred dollars would do it.

The carnival as usual was gay & noisy. Balls, theatres, concerts, corsos, love making, flirting, scandal, highplay, & some cheating, were among the amusements of the season. The strangers this winter were of a superior ton. Prince [Albert] of Sax[-Coburg-Gotha] — who it is said is to marry the Queen of England [Queen Victoria] has been here three months. He is a handsome young man of twenty-two who rides, waltzes, bows, and dresses just as all fine looking young men of 22 generally do. Seems very amiable, and has thirty four different cravats, each with a fanciful pin a la rococo. Young Jerome (Bonaparte) de Montfort is also very distinue’, and happy is she who dances with one, or both of these of an evening.

A M.H. of Kentucky (attaché to our Legation at L—– ) is exceedingly admired, and the women fuss round him considerably. He is certainly handsome, and as gallant & attentive as Americans usually are – an advantage they possess over Europeans.

The opera for lent is the Gueramente. I do not like it much. The story is that of Victor Hugo’s Angelo. The music is fine, but heavy for ears accustomed to Bellini & Donizetti. The Poniatowsky’s still give their amateur concerts. They have given the Barbiere di Leneglia and the Elixir d’ Amore -– tomorrow they give the Othello.

The amiable Princess Charlotte [Countess] de Survillier, daughter of [Joseph Bonaparte,] the Count de Survillier, died suddenly last week at Genoa. She is universally regretted by all who knew her. She was a truly charming woman -– devoted to her bedridden Mother, who I can scarcely think will survive this cruel loss.

We have had the finest weather possible -– cold for the climate, but bright & lovely. The influenza, however, has attacked every body & many have died from sudden colds. Every one in my house big and little had his turn.


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