|Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:|
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vol. III: Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 17651787
|A Glimpse of Madame Helvetius|
|By Abigail Adams (17441818)|
[Born in Weymouth, Mass., 1744. Died at Quincy, Mass., 1818. From a Letter to Lucy Cranch.Auteuil, 5 September, 1784. The Letters of Mrs. Adams. Revised Edition. 1848.]
I HAVE been in company with but one French lady since I arrived; for strangers here make the first visit, and nobody will know you until you have waited upon them in form.
| This lady I dined with at Dr. Franklins. She entered the room with a careless, jaunty air; upon seeing ladies who were strangers to her, she bawled out, Ah! mon Dieu, where is Franklin? Why did you not tell me there were ladies here? You must suppose her speaking all this in French. How I look! said she, taking hold of a chemise made of tiffany, which she had on over a blue lutestring, and which looked as much upon the decay as her beauty, for she was once a handsome woman; her hair was frizzled; over it she had a small straw hat, with a dirty gauze half-handkerchief round it, and a bit of dirtier gauze, than ever my maids wore, was bowed on behind. She had a black gauze scarf thrown over her shoulders. She ran out of the room; when she returned, the Doctor entered at one door, she at the other; upon which she ran forward to him, caught him by the hand, Helas! Franklin; then gave him a double kiss, one upon each cheek, and another upon his forehead. When we went into the room to dine, she was placed between the Doctor and Mr. Adams. She carried on the chief of the conversation at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Doctors, and sometimes spreading her arms upon the backs of both the gentlemens chairs, then throwing her arm carelessly upon the Doctors neck.|| 2|
| I should have been greatly astonished at this conduct, if the good Doctor had not told me that in this lady I should see a genuine Frenchwoman, wholly free from affectation or stiffness of behavior, and one of the best women in the world. For this I must take the Doctors word; but I should have set her down for a very bad one, although sixty years of age, and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted, and never wish for an acquaintance with any ladies of this cast. After dinner she threw herself upon a settee, where she showed more than her feet. She had a little lap-dog, who was, next to the Doctor, her favorite.|| 3|