THE PRESENT study is the first of two which I hope to make, the second to be a survey of the American reception of French literature up to 1848. I therefore beg critics of the present book to remember that it is but part of my whole plan. The literary project was my original one, but I found myself unable to estimate the American attitude toward French literature until I had got down to fundamental matters like politics and religion and manners–in short to as many contacts between the two civilizations as I was able to trace with anything like confidence. This volume is therefore but the first half of my task.

The choice of the hundred years from 1750 to 1848 as the central epoch for my purpose is, I think, a sufficiently obvious one. By 1750 the American colonies had passed from infancy into something like maturity; and by 1848 the French influence commenced to wane before the German one.

There are certain grave deficiencies in my book of which no one can be more conscious than I. For one thing I have had to pass over the whole problem of French science in America. I have been unable likewise to do anything satisfactory with Franco-American commerce, a field in which we badly need some detailed studies. Moreover, I have had to generalize in many instances from insufficient data, and I have had to make long, running jumps in various parts of the field–to guess when I wanted to know, and surmise when I would have preferred to prove. But I trust I may have something like the indulgence due to a pioneer volume in the field. It is true that Professor Chinard has been working on Franco-American relations for a number of years–no one can be more grateful for his accomplishments in Jeffersonian problems than I–and Professor Faÿ’s brilliant study does for the thirty years it covers something of what I have tried to do for a larger one. And (as the bibliography shows), hundreds of scholars and writers have touched on one aspect or another of the general problem. But no one so far as I know has tried to put the pieces together; that is, no one has tried to see the general American attitude toward things French in the hundred years when we were closest to that interesting people. This is what I have tried to do; how imperfectly and, in places, superficially, the reader must judge for himself.

However, I shall be satisfied if this book outlines a problem and exemplifies a method. The problem is that of the cultural relationships of the United States with France rather than merely the intellectual contacts of leaders on both sides of the water; and the method is that without which I do not see that the study of comparative literature can succeed. For if comparative literature is, as I think it is, the study of the reception of the ideas propagated by one culture as they are assimilated (or repelled) by another country or culture, I do not see how it is ever to be thorough and true unless it take into account, even inadequately, the sum total of the relationships between two countries, even when these sink to such undignified levels as that of eating and drinking. For it is thus that national attitudes are generated.

The exigencies of academic life in the United States have not permitted me to get at the original material in a great many cases. In the eighteenth century particularly the files of periodicals and magazines are in the East; I, alas! have been a western professor and consequently I have had to rely in this particular on the findings of others. Something of the same is true of letters and correspondence. Library facilities at the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina, though unexpectedly good, have not been inclusive enough for my purposes; nor does the excellent collection of periodicals in the Newberry Library at Chicago contain many eighteenth century publications. But perhaps the deficiencies of my book will be sufficiently obvious without my insisting on them.

I must take this occasion to say an altogether inadequate word of thanks for the help which I have received from many colleagues and friends. Miss Viola Corley, formerly of the University of Texas, kindly placed at my disposal the rich collection of material which she gathered for her master’s thesis on the reception of French fiction in America; and when I come to the writing of the second part of this work, a considerable portion of it will be more hers than mine. Professor Frank Graham of the University of North Carolina kindly read the historical portions in manuscript; and Professor Addison Hibbard of the same institution heroically went through the whole manuscript; both have saved me from many errors, and to both gentlemen I am extremely grateful. Professor Vernon Howell of the same university permitted me the use of his interesting library. Professor George Sherburn of the University of Chicago furnished me with lists of books advertised in colonial papers in the British Museum which would not otherwise have been accessible to me. I am indebted to the officials of the Library of Congress, the Avery Library, the Detroit Public Library, and the Library of the University of North Carolina for many courtesies. I owe a debt of gratitude to William Beers of the Howard Memorial Library of New Orleans, the friend of all who are interested in the romantic history of that fascinating city, as well as to Miss Josephine Cerf, in charge of the Schwartz collection when it was in New Orleans. The officials of the Newberry Library were extremely courteous. Professor Yates Snowden of the University of South Carolina showered me with information about the French in that state from an inexhaustible memory. I am indebted to Mary R. Bowman, Bessie J. Zaban, and John Abt of the University of Chicago, and to Miss Clare E. McLure of Chicago, for gathering material for me, as I am to Mr. Leon Radoff of the University of North Carolina. Nor can I close this account without a word of appreciation for the work already done in the field by Professors Faÿ and Chinard, upon whom I have leaned heavily; as well as for the countless studies upon which I have drawn.

Perhaps I should say a word about the index. To list every proper name mentioned in the text would have been both unfeasible and undesirable; I have therefore confined names in the index to three classes; first, important persons and places; second, primary authorities of importance when I have quoted from them; third, a few important secondary authorities, from whom I have quoted. Because of the constant, and, I trust, interesting, documentation in the footnotes, I have usually indexed references both to the text and to the notes. The latter are indicated by « n » after the page number. In preparation of the index I must gratefully acknowledge the patient help of Mr. James Willis Posey of the University of North Carolina.

I can not hope, in handling the thousands of details which go to make up this book, to have escaped error, and I shall be grateful to those who will call my attention to these slips of omission and commission.



Preface ix

I. Introduction. The Problem of American Literature       3

II. The Rise of Conflicting Forces               15

1. The origins of the cosmopolitan spirit in the colonies,15; 2. The cosmopolitan spirit in the religious colonies,19; 3. The cosmopolitan spirit in other religious sects,22; 4. The aristocratic organization of the southern colonies,24; 5. Cosmopolitanism and the merchant princes of the eighteenth century,29.

III. The Rise of Conflicting Forces (continued)     42

1. The rise of the frontier spirit; definition of its qualities, 42 ; 2. The rise of the middle class spirit; definition of its qualities,53; 3. The significance of the findings of the last two chapters,73.

IV. French Migration to America               77

1. French explorers and their influence,78; 2. The Huguenot migration,84; 3. Swiss, Alsatian, and Walloon immigrants in the eighteenth century; the Acadians,104; 4. The settlement of New Orleans and its environs,111.

V. French Migration to America (continued)       124

1. French travellers and emigrants in the period of the American revolution and subsequent years,124; 2. The movement of French émigrés from France and the West Indies,132; 3. Royalist refugees in America,152; 4. Bonapartist exiles in America,152; 5. The French in the Mississippi basin north of New Orleans,159; 6. The character of French emigration, 1815 to 1848,164.

VI. The French Language In America       173

Introduction: general considerations on language barriers and the French influence on American speech,173; 1. Evidence for the knowledge of French in America, 1620-1700,175; 2. The same for 1700-1750,181; 3. The same for 1750-1770,183; 4. The same for 1770-1800,186; 5. The same for 1800-1848, 200; 6. Summary and significance of the chapter,215.

VII. French Manners In America 217

1. The social quality of French culture; the levels at which it reached the Americans,217; 2. The Franco-British origins of the manners of the colonial leisure class,219; 3. Franco- British influences on the development of this class,223; 4. The American leisure class and French manners in the last quarter of the eighteenth century,234.

VIII. French Manners In America (continued)      245

1. The French in American society during the American revolution,245; 2. The émigré movement and American society, 255; 3. French manners in America in the days of Jefferson , 259; 4. The importation of French fashions, 265;5. French fashions and manners, 1830-1848, 227.

IX. The Influence of French Art In America           291

1. The cosmopolitan spirit, the middle class spirit, and the frontier spirit in relation to American art,292; 2. Americans and the French arts of the table,300; 3. The Americans and French entertainers,309; 4. The American interest in French painting and sculpture,315; 5. French architecture in America, 326; 6. French music in America,333; 7. The French theater in America,345.

X. The Influence of French. Religion        350

1. The cosmopolitan spirit of the American religious colonies leads to an interest in French theological literature,351; 2. The rise of deism, the growth of the spirit of tolerance, and the interest in French Catholicism in the eighteenth century, 361; 3. Summary and significance of the chapter,385.

XI. The Reaction to French Religious Influence   388

1. The religious revival after the revolution and the attack on French and American deism,388; 2. The triumph of the moral reaction over deism,400; 3. The religious revival spreads over the country,411.

XII. The Effects of French Religion            417

1. The characteristics of frontier religion,417; 2. The characteristics of bourgeois religion,419; 3. The anti-Catholic movement, 1815-1848, and its effect upon the interpretation of French religion,426; 4. Summary,447.

XIII. French Philosophical and Educational Influences     449

1. American interest in French and Swiss theology, 1815-1848, 449; 2. The liberal movement in American thought, and French philosophy in the same period,459; 3. French influence upon American educational systems,472.

XIV. Conflicting Forces In Politics              488

1. The conflict in politics and the westward-fronting attitude, 488; 2. Early colonial hostility to the French,500; 3. The revolutionary period,508.

XV. Conflicting Forces In Politics (continued)      527

1. Anti-British feeling after the revolution,527; 2. The French Revolution and the Americans,530; 3. The reaction under Jefferson,550; 4. Franco-American relations, 1815- 1848,559; 5. Summary of the last two chapters,567.

Conclusion         569

Bibliography .    573

Index    603



It is against the rich and complicated background studied in this work that the problem of the American reception of French letters must be seen. This analysis has been, indeed, defective if it does not appear that we are dealing with two variable quantities. On the one hand the changing panorama of American life in which at one time or another the cosmopolitan spirit, the middle-class spirit, or the frontier spirit dominates, yet never wholly crushing out the interests of the other two groups, is one side of the problem; on the other hand is French culture which, through the hundred years or so which have been our main preoccupation, goes through a series of violent and revolutionary changes. There are varying levels of American life; there are varying aspects of French culture, and in the relation between the two lies the fascination and complexity of the problem. And yet while the situation is thus a dynamic rather than a static one, certain elements remain the same: French culture, whatever the internal upheavals may be, continues to present to American eyes certain permanent traits; and although one or another of the strands of American culture may be most important in any given decade, there are always present the three factors of American culture, even in very early times. It is to a brief consideration of these permanent characteristics that this brief conclusion is directed.

The great obstacle to a sympathetic reception of things French by the Americans has been, it appears, a sense of religious difference. This sense of religious difference carries with it a suspicion of French morality of French infidelity, and of French Catholicism. Weakest in the concluding quarter of the eighteenth century when both countries were dominated by a movement of tolerance and even of scepticism, this sense of difference is yet always present and is basic to an understanding of the American attitude. In the seventeenth century the Americans are suspicious of French Catholicism; in the last decade of the eighteenth century, they are suspicious of French infidelity, and they carry this attitude into the opening decades of the nineteenth century; and in the last twenty-five or thirty years of our study, they are impartially suspicious of both infidelity and Catholicism. Most obvious in the fields of religion and philosophy, this spirit of distrust is yet at work in other ways; it colors our whole attitude towards things French. It explains the varying reception of the different groups of French immigrants who have come to America; it underlies the American legend that in the arts of the theater, the table, and music, of painting, sculpture (and we may add, literature), the French are immoral, sensuous, or light-minded. It helps to explain the distrust with which the teaching of French has sometimes been greeted during our period; and in certain sections of our political history, the presence of this sense of religious difference is a conditioning factor, avowed or implicit, of political policies.

But this sense of religious difference is weakest among those who possess the cosmopolitan spirit. Hence, a second important element which has developed in our history is that things French come to possess social prestige for the Americans. This opposite and contradictory attitude exhibits itself most clearly in the fields of fashion and manners, as we have seen, but it is not confined to these departments. The glamor of social prestige, by virtue of the dominance of the cosmopolitan class over so important a period of American history as the eighteenth century (and, in lesser degree, the opening years of the nineteenth), has been thrown over the French stage, French opera, French painting, French sculpture, French architecture; it has made the French chef a « smart » possession; in the field of politics, it has its force in giving a glamor to diplomacy, and perhaps it has helped to build up that distrust of European diplomatic methods felt by the plain American. No other foreign influence in the United States has had this peculiar quality of social prestige; and even at moments when American distrust of the French was highest, certain contacts between the two cultures, by virtue of this prestige, have been maintained.

Caught between these two contradictory attitudes, the Americans, and the middle-class Americans in particular, have developed a third belief concerning the French which has been powerful in the relations between the two people. Viewing the political kaleidoscope of France with alarm, touched by British propaganda, distrustful of the animation and gaiety which the French, as he believed, possess, the average bourgeois has developed the idea that the French are predominantly a fickle and unreliable people. The very fact that the most unchanging factor in the cultural relation has been the social prestige given French manners and French arts, has likewise helped to build up this notion. To the average American in our period the most obvious facts about the French were, first, that they were politically unstable; and second, that their principal productions were articles of luxury, fashions, millinery, the dancing master, an exaggerated sense of punctilio, and various other things or qualities which seemed to him unworthy of serious consideration by a truly great and important people. What trust can be placed in a people who take so seriously the frills and little accomplishments of life? While the Americans were engaging in the gigantic task of civilizing the continent and conducting a great political experiment, the French were—dancing! The average American did not know, but had he known, he would have quoted with approval, Voltaire’s line:

« On s’abime a Lisbonne, et on danse a Paris. »

Yet (and this will appear in a subsequent study and is only implicit in the present one) in contradistinction to this widely prevalent belief, one must also remember that to a certain group of the Americans, the French have also possessed intellectual prestige. The great achievements of the German technological methods were of course not known in our period. British thought and British science had its place, although, in the nineteenth century at least, a candid appreciation of the achievements of the British was impossible because of the common American idea that the British were violently hostile to the Americans. But the achievements of French philosophers and scientists have always been seriously considered by intelligent Americans, even when they have not found agreement in this country. With Great Britain France has been over our period the great intellectual center of Europe. Until the rise to prestige of Germany, this attitude has been fairly constant in the New World. Calvin, Montesquieu, Buffon, Cousin, Comte have been seriously regarded and seriously discussed. The connections between American scientific and learned societies and French savants have been, on the whole, remarkably intimate, especially when one considers the political situation and the linguistic and geographical obstacles.

That these several attitudes are mutually contradictory need not especially disturb us. The popular mind is not distinguished for logic, and finds little difficulty in believing two opposite things at once. Moreover, the American mind is not a homogenous one. To the frontier type of thinking, the French were simply another effete European nation to which the United States was obviously and providentially superior. To the cosmopolitan classes the regrettable crudities of American life seemed but the more crude beside the polish and superior savoir faire of the French. The middle classes vibrated between the two attitudes.

On the whole it is in the departments of manners and fashions that the French have exerted their most notable influence in shaping American culture. In intellectual matters they have had vogue rather than influence. The popular notion that the representative institutions of America owe much to Rousseau does not appear to be historically sound; and if Montesquieu played an important part in shaping the constitution, he yet derives from English thought and was useful largely because he so clearly represented the English idea at a time when hostility to England was great. In the arts it is only at the end of our survey that Paris commences to exert a real influence upon cis-Atlantic painters; and if in architecture the French have contributed through Jefferson to the stylization of American public buildings, they have had little influence upon domestic architecture, which remain in these hundred years mainly British. It does not appear that a knowledge of the French language was widely diffused except in upper social circles; nor has the total French immigration seriously colored the complexion of the American people. And yet, when all this is admitted, it yet remains true that no continental nation until the rise of German influence has possessed the social prestige of France. I believe that in the decades following 1848 we should see the result of much that is begun in the years covered by our study.

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