EDITOR'S NOTE: The following item has been attributed to Mark Twain by newspaper reprintings that appeared in the mid 1870s. For a number of years the first printing of this item eluded researchers. In October 2009, a staff member at the Mark Twain Project at the University of California at Berkeley located what appears to be the first printing of the following item in The Galaxy in the May 1871 issue. The editors at the Mark Twain Project feel this item was most likely written by Donn Piatt who had recently assumed the role of editing the "Club-Room" department for the Galaxy. Piatt wrote to Clemens on March 28, 1871, "I find in print some very capital things from you that you ordered out -- now can't you give me some of them" (Piatt to Clemens, reprinted in Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 4, University of California Press, 1995, p. 370.) However, there is no current evidence to indicate the following is indeed the work of Mark Twain. It is included in this collection for research purposes and to provide the original text that appeared in later newspaper printings that attributed it to Mark Twain.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THIS ITEM: In 1867 Samuel Clemens embarked on a five-month cruise of Europe and the Holy Land aboard the steamer Quaker City. Throughout his trip he sent back travel letters to the San Francisco Alta California and the New York Tribune newspapers. In a letter to his mother dated September 1 and 2, 1867, Clemens wrote that he had penned two letters from Paris, France. These were listed among a long list of places from which Clemens remembered writing. However, while aboard the ship, he had no knowledge which letters the newspapers had actually received or were publishing. Dewey Ganzel in Mark Twain Abroad; The Cruise of the Quaker City states that the first letter from Paris, France was lost in transit. Scholars have speculated that possibly fourteen letters were lost in the mails or never used. In 1904 Clemens himself recalled, "During the trip I wrote and sent the fifty letters; six of them miscarried" (Mark Twain's Autobiography, 1924). His personal notebook for the time period of July 3 through August 10, 1867 is lost.
According to Ganzel, Clemens spent about a week in Paris in July 1867:
Monday night he went to Jardin Mabille, perhaps the most famous of the French bals, country dance pavilions which were open for two or three nights a week during the summer months. The Mabille was an elegant garden with a large dance floor and comfortable places to take refreshment. Here and there throughout the gardens were other amusements--games of chance such as jeu de bagues and quoits and swings and Chinese billiard tables. Clemens, of course, was immediately attracted to the billiards, but it was not the game he knew and the tables were very bad. The bals were respectable places of amusement, certainly, but they were not all propriety; women, for instance, could attend unescorted and were always admitted free. ... It was probably here that Clemens first saw performed the cancan which he described with mock modesty in Innocents Abroad (Ganzel, p. 117).
The Jardin Mabille is described thus in Galignani's New Paris Guide for 1867: "The company at this elegant garden...generally comes under the description of 'the gayest of the gay' and the licence of the dance is frequently carried beyond the limits of propriety" (p. 479).
Clemens's travel letters that first appeared in the newspapers were collected, revised and published in book form in The Innocents Abroad in July 1869. Regarding French women, he wrote the following:
Ah, the grisettes! I had almost forgotten. They are another romantic fraud. They were (if you let the books of travel tell it) always so beautiful - so neat and trim, so graceful - so naive and trusting - so gentle, so winning - so faithful to their shop duties, so irresistible to buyers in their prattling importunity - so devoted to their poverty-stricken students of the Latin Quarter - so light-hearted and happy on their Sunday picnics in the suburbs - and oh, so charmingly, so delightfully immoral!
Stuff! For three or four days I was constantly saying:
"Quick, Ferguson! is that a grisette?"
And he always said "No."
He comprehended, at last, that I wanted to see a grisette. Then he showed me dozens of them. They were like nearly all the Frenchwomen I ever saw - homely. They had large hands, large feet, large mouths; they had pug-noses as a general thing, and mustaches that not even good breeding could overlook; they combed their hair straight back without parting; they were ill-shaped, they were not winning, they were not graceful; I knew by their looks that they ate garlic and onions; and lastly and finally, to my thinking it would be base flattery to call them immoral.
- The Innocents Abroad, chapter 15
If Piatt is the author of the following item, it is a clever parody of Mark Twain's work in The Innocents Abroad.
THE MABILLE AND MAJESTY.
A lounger enters the club-room of THE GALAXY with an instructive reminiscence of Paris in its imperial days:
From a Letter (dated 1867) Found in Broadway.
I admire Paris, notwithstanding it seems to be made up almost entirely of foreigners who were born and reared there and cannot speak a work of Christian English, and yet are lacking in reverence for people who can -- I admire Paris; but in my opinion the ways of its citizens are not what they ought to be. However, I do not wish to speak particularly of these unless, further along, my feelings should drive me to it. I only wish to speak in a plain, unpretending way, of some unimportant things that came under my notice in that curious city where the weather is so peculiar that the presidents all sour before their terms are up, and turn to emperors.
I wished to see the Emperor very much; because I had read a good deal about emperors, but I had never seen one. I called at his house several times, but they always said he was not at home. It seemed to me a little scandalous that the head of a great government should be out so much; but I thought I would not speak of it as it was not really any business of mine. I left my address with the soldier at the door the last time I went, and told him to ask the Emperor to drop in. I said I was not of an austere disposition, but wished to be sociable. But he never came. It may have been that the soldier did not understand what I said because the generality of those French people are very ignorant. They speak their own language very well, but they hardly understand it at all. It does not look well in me to make such a strong assertion as that may be, but then I tried them frequently, and I know.
When I learned that the Emperor was out so much, I inquired where it was that he spent his time chiefly, and was informed that he went usually in the evening, to an aristocratic place of resort called the Jardin Mabille.
Naturally I proceeded thither. There was music; the place was brilliantly lighted; there was a multitude of ladies and gentlemen present. They were preparing to dance. While I was looking about for the Emperor, a gentleman asked me if I wished to dance. I said that I would like it, certainly, but that I was a stranger and not acquainted with any of the nobility present. He smiled, and said the French nobility were exceedingly affable and obliging, and that he would be happy to introduce me to a lady of high rank and varied accomplishments, who would dance with me if I desired her to do so. Then he presented me to the young Duchess d'Asafoetida. I had never stood face to face with a duchess before, and therefore felt diffident and ill at ease. This graceful creature divined my case at once, and cured it. Within two or three minutes she made me feel perfectly at home -- more than at home, I may say. I never knew a woman so easy to get acquainted with as she was. It must require high cultivation to give one such self-possession as hers. But I suppose those upper ranks of society are a school wherein one learns that more surely and more reliably than anywhere else. I have studied the work called "Etiquette for Gentlemen" carefully, but somehow I always forget what it says I must do when I get in close quarters, where I particularly need to know. This Duchess smiled upon me in the most encouraging way; and then she tapped me on the shoulder again, and looked up into my face and charmed away all my distress with a burst of cheery laughter that was full of happiness and garlic. There would have been ecstasy in either alone; there was intoxication in the two combined. Next, she took my arm, still keeping her fan fluttering and beating time, and still uttering that fragrant laughter. And next she put her arm around my neck. This was somewhat unexpected, I must say. It made me feel blissfully uncomfortable. I enjoyed it, but at the same time I was afraid it would attract attention. I intimated as gently as I could that the Grand Duke her father, might be in the crowd somewhere; but she only laughed more odorously than ever. There was a bare suspicion in my mind that he might want me to breakfast with him on pistols and coffee; I do not mind coffee; I like it in fact, but I do not consider that it improves it to mix it with hardware. I hinted to the Duchess that the other nobility about us might make remarks. That remark appeared to delight her. She did not understand English very well, and she must have thought I was trying to same something humorous, for she received it with one of those peculiar laughs of hers that was perfectly smothering. I often make the most sparkling jokes without finding it out until somebody laughs, and then of course I know enough to keep still and let it be supposed that it was a deliberate intent on my part to be funny. May be you have done that yourself. While I was trying to think what the exact words were that I had said, this Duchess said, "Come!" and dashed away from me. The music had struck up furiously. The crowd closed up to our set, and walled it on every side. I never had seen so much curiosity displayed in a mere quadrille by disinterested parties before. Dukes and duchesses were prancing to and fro in the dance with an energy of purpose and an extravagance of gesture that made the war-dances I sued to see among the painted savages of the Rocky Mountains seem poor and trifling, almost. My excitement blazed up handsomely. I glanced across -- my partner was just turning -- she miscalculated the length of her limbs and lifted her dress accordingly -- she came prancing over -- I sallied forth to meet her, and when we were within a yard of each other, I wish I may never be believed again if she did not kick the hat off of my head. I stooped to pick it up, and a noble aristocrat fell over me; others fell over him -- men and women both -- and I never saw such a chaos of struggling limbs and frantic drapery since the benches broke down at the circus when I was a boy. It was pure good fortune that nobody got hurt. When I got out I went to my place at the head of the quadrille and staid there. I had lost confidence. This dance was too prononcé for me, as we say among the Comanches. It had peculiarities about it that were new and unexpected. I had seen plenty of quadrilles in my time but I had never seen one with the variations before. The Duchess resumed here mad career, like the rest. The first time she halted by my side for a moment I whispered to her to calm her gushing spirits; not to meddle with her dress; and for public opinion's sake not to step so high. I said she could get over just as much ground at a more moderate gait; and besides the noble Grand Duke her father might happen along at any moment. I might as well have talked to the wind. She only laughed that characteristic laugh of hers, that slivery laugh that I could recognize anywhere, if I was to leeward, and then bending a little, she seized up the sides of her apparel with both hands, began to jerk it in a violent and disorderly manner this way and that, threw her magnificent head back and skipped furiously away on an Irish jig step, all excitement, wild hilarity, distracted costume, frenzied motion! a spectacle to sear the eyeballs and astonish the soul of a hermit! And when she reached the centre she snatched her cumbering dresses free and launched a kick at the head of a tall nobleman and fairly loosened the scalp on top of his head! The words of the comedy came into my mind and I said, "What can she mean by such conduct as those?"
The other ladies, and the gentlemen, danced just as she did. Each sex seemed to have only one object in view -- to outdo its opposite in violence of actin and eccentricity of conduct. If I had not known that these people were the flower of the French nobility, I could have believed that they had begun their education in a gymnasium and graduated in a circus. When the dance was concluded, I asked the Duchess if she wished her carriage called (candidly, I hoped she did), but she bridled up and said certainly not -- she wished to go to the bar and take a drink! I sighed, but submitted; for I perceived by the evidences around me that it was the customs of the country. I pray that mine may never reach such degradations as this. When we had finished drinking I spoke of my anxiety to get acquainted with the Emperor, and the Duchess pointed him out at once, and ran and whispered to him Both then approached me, and I was glad to see by their familiar conduct toward each other that theirs was no cold courtly acquaintanceship, but that they were cordial friends. She introduced me; then she kissed the Emperor, and after that she almost frightened me out of my senses by kissing me also. These French people are very Frenchy. In another moment the giddy girl was spinning through the multitude in a dizzy waltz with a person whose appearance would have been against him in a company where he was not known.
The Emperor of the French is a very slender young man of perhaps twenty-eight years of age. He wears a hat of the kind called "stovepipe," wrapped with crape half way up to the crown; it sits jauntily on the side of his head. He wears very thin side-whiskers, and a moustache that is hardly perceptible. He uses an eye-glass, that hangs to his buttonhole by a string. His coat, upon the occasion of my introduction, was exceedingly bob-tailed, and his vest was vastly too large for him, and was buttoned clear to the throat; nothing was visible about his neck but a green-striped silk neckerchief, which encircled it several times, and was tied in a little hazel-nut of a hard knot which had shifted considerably to the left side. The Emperor is one of the most spider-legged Frenchmen that can be found in this nation of spider-legged people; he wears pantaloons of a broad plaid pattern wrought in striped of green and black; and when he stands in his favorite attitude, with his feet well apart and his hands on his hips, his legs curve backward, showing no knee, and he has something of the appearance of being on stilts that are warped. He drinks a good deal, and although it is an indelicate thing to say about an Emperor, his clothes are seedy and mottled with polished grease spots; he smells unpleasantly, and his face has a swollen and beery aspect. But he has one lovable quality which somehow seemed to me in those days to transcend all other virtues; he speaks English like a native.
The Emperor --
But no more of the Emperor, for there is a touch of sadness in my memories of him He borrowed my money and my watch that night, and told me to come to the Tuileries in the morning and get them. Which I tried to do; but the old plan of an obstructing soldier and a "Not at home" had been resumed conveniently enough, and the Emperor of the French retains my property to this day. I have gradually come to look upon him as an imperial fraud.
Six years later a portion of this story was revised and reprinted in the New Hampshire Sentinel -- a newspaper published in Keene, New Hampshire. The story titled "French Dancing" appeared on the front page of the September 27, 1877 edition. At the end of the story, the Sentinel named their source "Paris Letter" with no mention of who the author might be.
Five months after the story appeared in the New Hampshire Sentinel, it was reprinted in the Atlanta Daily Constitution newspaper on February 18, 1878, with additional editorial changes. The Constitution openly credited the story to Mark Twain and titled it "The Fascinating Duchess: Mark Twain's Adventure in the Jardin Mabille." The following month, on March 19, 1878 the Wisconsin Weekly State Journal of Madison, Wisconsin published the item as "The Fascinating Duchess" and credited it to "Mark Twain" at the end of the article which appeared on page 7 of that issue. It is likely that other reprintings are yet to be found.
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