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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Fête Champêtre at Montreuil

By Ninian Pinkney (1776–1825)

[Born in Baltimore, Md., 1776. Sailed from Baltimore for Liverpool, 1807. Died in Baltimore, Md., 1825. Travels through the South of France, etc. 1809.]

NOT being pressed for time, the beauty of a scene at some little distance from the road-side tempted me to enter into a by-lane, and take a nearer view of it. A village church, embosomed in a chestnut wood, just rose above the trees on the top of a hill; the setting sun was on its casements, and the foliage of the wood was burnished by the golden reflection. The distant hum of the village green was just audible; but not so the French horn, which echoed in full melody through the groves. Having rode about half a mile through a narrow sequestered lane, which strongly reminded me of the half-green and half-trodden by-roads in Warwickshire, I came to the bottom of the hill, on the brow and summit of which the village and church were situated. I now saw whence the sound of the horn proceeded. On the left of the road was an ancient chateau situated in a park, or very extensive meadow, and ornamented as well by some venerable trees, as by a circular fence of flowering shrubs, guarded on the outside by a paling on a raised mound. The park or meadow having been newly mown, had an air at once ornamented and natural. A party of ladies were collected under a patch of trees situated in the middle of the lawn. I stopped at the gate to look at them, thinking myself unperceived; but in the same moment the gate was opened to me by a gentleman and two ladies, who were walking the round. An explanation was now necessary, and was accordingly given. The gentleman informed me upon his part, that the chateau belonged to Mons. St. Quentin, a member of the French Senate, and a Judge of the District; that he had a party of friends with him upon the occasion of his lady’s birthday, and that they were about to begin dancing; that Mons. St. Quentin would highly congratulate himself on my accidental arrival. One of the ladies, having previously apologized and left us, had seemingly explained to Mons. St. Quentin the main circumstance belonging to me; for he now appeared, and repeated the invitation in his own person. The ladies added their kind importunities. I dismounted, gave my horse to a servant in waiting, and joined this happy and elegant party, for such it really was.

I had now, for the first time, an opportunity of forming an opinion of French beauty, the assemblage of ladies being very numerous, and all of them most elegantly dressed. Travelling, and the imitative arts, have given a most surprising uniformity to all the fashions of dress and ornament: and, whatever may be said to the contrary, there is a very slight difference between the scenes of a French and English polite assembly. If anything, however, be distinguishable, it is more in degree than in substance. The French fashions, as I saw them here, differed in no other point from what I had seen in London, but in degree. The ladies were certainly more exposed about the necks, and their hair was dressed with more fancy; but the form was in almost everything the same. The most elegant novelty was a hat, which doubled up like a fan, so that the ladies carried it in their hands. There were more colored than white muslins; a variety which had a pretty effect amongst the trees and flowers. The same observation applies to the gentlemen. Their dresses were made as in England; but the pattern of the cloth, or some appendage to it, was different. One gentleman, habited in a grass-colored silk coat, had very much the appearance of Beau Mordecai in the farce: the ladies, however, seemed to admire him, and in some conversation with him I found him, in despite of his coat, a very well-informed man. There were likewise three or four fancy dresses; a Dian, a wood-nymph, and a sweet girl playing upon a lute, habited according to a picture of Calypso by David. On the whole, there was certainly more fancy, more taste, and more elegance, than in an English party of the same description: though there were not so many handsome women as would have been the proportion of such an assembly in England.

A table was spread handsomely and substantially under a very large and lofty marquee. The outside was very prettily painted for the occasion—Venus commemorating her birth from the ocean. The French manage these things infinitely better than any other nation in the world. It was necessary, however, for the justice of the compliment, that the Venus should be a likeness of Madame St. Quentin, who was neither very young nor very handsome. The painter, however, got out of the scrape very well.