From the River.
The present brings us to ourselves, which is quite a different point of view from our ancestors and the past. To look into to‑day is to look into a mirror; and a mirror, except to the dim-visioned, affords mostly only ocular verification of secret apprehensions. Thank Heaven, it is only we who, looking out of our own eyes into the mirror, and seeing the thousand proofs that we are not what we would be, can know the reason for it; others guess and infer; we know. But reasons, after all, are only a satisfaction in the abstract life of science. Nothing is more discouraging in real life than reasons; — the great inevitable in broken causes. Sometimes it almost seems that it is the irrational alone that can hope for tranquility here below, for their logical deficiency cuts them off, not only from the inherited responsibilities of the past, but emancipates them from those of the future.
However, if there be secular consolation for our personal mortality as citizens, in the sentiment of the continuity of the life of the city itself, there is the same consolation for our limited morality in the sentiment of the moral continuity of the city, as a recent French writer expresses it, in "the sentiment of the city itself: p355of the incessant need we have of her, and the immense part she has had, and will never cease to have, in the formation of our spiritual as well as material security and well-being; of what laborious efforts it has cost anterior generations and consideration she deserves, notwithstanding her imperfections." . . .
With this sentiment in one's mind in regard to one's city, the most inadequate expression of her present condition seems to be that furnished by official figures, fertilized though they be into ever sturdier growth, annually, by statistical reports; the blessedness of knowing that a mother is increasing in health and wealth would be poorly conveyed by quotations from her physician's report or her bank account.
Sitting on the balcony, in the starlight of a mid-July night, thinking over the incompleteness of the task accomplished — and the brave effort of the task begun — when everything that should have been put in seems left out, and so much put in that might have been left out, as a journey which delighted in its actuality appears in retrospect only a vast series of regrets for what one did not see. On such an evening, looking up at the dim heavens above, there seem very few stars for very much sky, and it occurs then, that in the America of to‑day, and city for city, figures are, after all, better media than letters.
Ah! Rockets suddenly break and spangle the dim heavens above with miniature constellations, comets, and meteors and there are at times more stars now in the sky than space to hold them; — showering in their splendid whirl through the Milky Way, across Scorpio, the Dipper, the Cross, Corona. — We remember p356that it is one day short of mid-July, that it is the fourteenth of July, "le quatorze, de France," that the thoroughfares are arched with the colours of the French Republic, that the Tricolor flutters from the car-heads, that the "Marseillaise" is the national hymn of the hour, and that patriotism is again speaking French, to commemorate the fête of the old own mother country of Louisiana. It is a timely interruption to recriminating thoughts, and they flash after the fireworks, from suggestion to suggestion and person to person, until they, too, spangle the dark interstices of retrospection and collect their fantastic groupings of constellations.
Another meteor flamed into view shortly afterwards — Paul Morphy. It really appeared at that time as if the Crescent City were going to provide the United States with celebrities. She thinks still, in her pride, that she would have done so had not her most promising youth been drafted, since the Civil War, into the menial service of working for a living. It was not very long ago that, at opera, theatre, concert, ball, or promenade, or at celebrations at the cathedral, the figure of Paul Morphy was instinctively looked for. Dark-skinned, with brilliant black eyes, black hair; slight and graceful, with the hands and smile of a woman, his personality held the eye with a charm that appeared to the imagination akin to mystery. He belonged also to what is called the good old families, and dated from what is called the good old times, and lived in one of the old brick mansions on Royal street, p360whose pretty court-yard ever attracts the inquiries of the passing-by stranger. And as young musicians of the day strummed after the star of Gottschalk, so young chess-players played with Morphy's glittering triumphs and the chess championship of the world before them. They are old chess-players now, meeting in a great club of their own, entertaining distinguished visitors, and holding their local and international matches: but that which most prominently characterizes these old gentlemen to the foreign and to the home chess world of to‑day is not, as they imagine, their personal prowess at the game, undisputed as that is, but the perpetuating in their club of the Morphy tradition and sentiment; the Creole tradition and sentiment, it may be called, which give picturesqueness, not only to the individuals but to so many of the institutions of New Orleans, localizing them, narrowing them, enhancing them.
Out of that period, however, there is no man who strikes the taste of the present with so fine a flavour of the old-time dramatic vicissitudes as he whom, the children of the public schools are being taught to‑day to love as their greatest benefactor, to whose bust they bring flowers, and for whom commemorative exercises are held once a year, — John McDonogh. The life that he acted out here might have been composed by a great novelist, it seems so well adjusted to its round of circumstance. It was lived, however, and not merely written; otherwise the criticism would be that it was too realistic, and that it was weakened by that absurd adjunct, a moral; and the story begins in the commonplace way that no modern self-respecting novelist would deign to employ.
p361 McDonogh was born in Baltimore, of worthy good Scotch parentage, and came to New Orleans in 1800, in his twenty-second year, on a commercial venture. Tall, fine looking, liberally educated, refined, polished in manner, with the best social credentials, he had all the qualifications necessary at that time in the community to make an American persona grata in society — in society, which, in reality, was the community. He was, as is always carefully explained (a very antique explanation it is nowadays), a gentleman first, a keen, shrewd, commercial genius secondarily. In ten years he had made his fortune, a fortune, as it was understood then, counted by the hundreds of thousands, not by the millions; and he enjoyed it as gentlemen were then expected to enjoy fortunes, in a handsome establishment (on Chartres and Toulouse streets), with a rich gentleman's retinue of slaves, carriages, horses; giving balls, receptions, dinner-parties, entertaining; leading the life, in short, of a wealthy young gentleman of good birth, breeding, and manners, who was fond of society. He was, in the authoritative judgment of prudent mammas, the parti par excellence in the city. Micaela Almonaster was then in all the belle-hood of her fortune and sixteen years, and society — or the Almonaster faction in society — would have it that he had asked the hand of Micaela, as all the young beaux were then doing, but was refused because he was a heretic, and not of birth noble enough for a union with the daughter of the Alferez Real. But this is only a report, to be buzzed between women in balcony gossips.
During the invasion, and at the battle of New Orleans, McDonogh distinguished himself by his gallantry p362and liberality, as all young men in society were in honour bound to do, his name and his person figuring conspicuously in all functions. Then — this is the fact, although balcony talkers run over it in that perfunctory, uninterested way they have of treating facts — there came to New Orleans a Baltimore merchant of wealth and distinction. As has been noted, wealth at that day was not essentially the distinction of merchants. He brought his wife and young daughter with him. It is one of the prettiest of pleasures to a listener to hear old beaux talk about this young Baltimore girl. She was extremely beautiful and an heiress, but — this is never insisted upon — she did not impress by means of it at all, but entirely by her grace, her modesty, her dignity, seriousness, ineffable charm, and the old-fashioned virtues of truth, candour, and high principles. The old beaux say with conviction, and their assurance begets conviction, even in a woman now, that for all in all, they have never in a long life since seen a woman to compare with her. The parti of New Orleans loved her, without hesitation, at first sight — but they say all men did that — and she, when she knew him, loved have. He made the formal demande en mariage. The father, a fervent Roman Catholic, exacted a change of religion. This was categorically refused by the Scotch Presbyterian lover. The young girl made no terms about religion: she could not, knowing his love and her love. So they agreed to wait, and trust to time and persuasion to change the father's determination.
They waited and hoped in vain. Another formal demand was made for the daughter; it was again rejected. The young girl then announced that, as she p363could not marry the man she loved, she would become a nun. She took the veil in the Ursuline chapel. He as effectually, in his own way, took the robe and tonsure. He broke up his establishment in the city, abandoned his elegant social life, and retired to a solitary and isolated existence on his plantation across the river, at the little town whose lawlessness had even then earned for it the title of "Algiers." Every morning, except Sunday, he would cross the river in his own skiff, rowed by his slaves, land, walk to his place of business, remain there until afternoon, return on foot to the levee, cross the river again to his sequestered home. This was all that his former friends ever saw of his life.
As the young girl had renounced all but religious communication with the world, he appeared to have renounced all but business communication with it; and, as she laboured in her faith for one expression of a purpose, he laboured in his faith for another expression of it. Money-making was still in a primitive state of development. It was really money-making; laying up, piece by piece, filing bill after bill; it buying and selling a commodity itself, not the wagerable values of it; it was bargaining upon the earth, not speculating in the air. The gay, easy society of the place, reckoning as gentlemen and for gentlemen, owned but two capital sins, — cowardice and avarice; it was pitiless to both. The rumour started that the whilom leader of society was making money, not for the enjoyment it could buy for him and his fellow-creatures, but for its own sordid sake; that he was hoarding it; women began to grow cold to him; men to avoid him, except for business purposes. Thirty p364years afterwards, a long period of time reckoned humanly, a bent, grey, meanly clad figure, with stern, compressed face, was pointed at on the street as McDonogh the Miser.
Tower & portico
It was a generous, free-handed time, as we must remember, every one making money and spending it. There was even some emulation among the rich to link their names to the city by some deed of gift, and so gain at least a momentary dispensation from the oblivion of death. McDonogh buying and selling and shaving paper, accumulating his land and property, reducing even his business relations with men to the barest necessities, revealed, during the long thirty years of his after life, but one touch of humanity. When the Ursuline sister, after her thirty years of work, became superior of the convent, he availed himself of the privilege she possessed, of receiving visitors, and called upon her every New Year, and it was noted that he dressed carefully and appeared not at all the old man he was, but the old man that his youth promised to become.
Death took him at last one day in 1850, and people laughed to think how much it was like Death taking himself. He was buried the next day, Sunday afternoon, in the tomb he had prepared on his plantation. His will was probated. And then, to the eyes of the city, it was as if the heavy dull clouds of a winter's day had suddenly cracked, showing through innumerable fissures glimpses of brightness above and beyond; the brightness which had always been on the other side.
Little real money was left; the hoardings had been of p368land and city property. "I have preferred," he wrote in his will, "as a revenue, the earth, as part of the solid globe. One thing is certain, it will not take wings and fly away as gold and silver and governmental bonds and stocks often do. It is the only thing in this world that approaches anything like permanency." He bequeathed it all to the two cities, Baltimore and New Orleans, for educational purposes, asking "as a small favour, that the little children shall sometimes come and plant a few flowers above my grave." It is a pathetic document, this long, rambling will, and in reading it one quivers involuntarily at the harsh, rude speeches that dogged the man's old age, and one shrinks away from the presentment by imagination of the long, lonely evenings that filled the thirty-five years of the solitary plantation home, — and one wishes — ah! how one wishes! — that the little children had not mocked and pointed at him, and that at least one in his life had proffered him the flowers he craved for his grave. "I feel bound to explain," he wrote; "having seen and felt that my conduct, views, and object in life were not understood by my fellow-men. I have much, very much to complain of the world, rich as well as poor; it has harassed me in a thousand different ways . . . They said of me: 'He is rich, he is old, without wife or child, let us take from him what he has!' Infatuated men! They knew not that that was an attempt to take from themselves, for I have been labouring all my life, not for myself, but for them and their children."
The last clause reads: "The love of singing, given me in my youth, has been the delight and charm of my life throughout all its subsequent periods and trials. Still has its love and charm pervaded my existence and gilded p369my path to comparative happiness below, and I firmly believe led me to what little virtue I have practised."
A woman's faded, gold-embroidered slipper was found hidden away among his papers.
St. John's steeple.
In 1855, after a tedious and costly litigation, the two cities took possession of their inheritance. Despite the usual mismanagement of a money trust by a city's official guardians and the depreciation in value of the property and other losses, in consequence of the Civil War, over half a million of dollars remained to carry out the purpose of McDonogh. They have bought or built over twenty handsome public schoolhouses, and under the present most worthy administration of the fund, a goodly fortune still rests to the credit of the school-children of the state. In each schoolhouse has been placed a bust of John McDonogh, and, as has been said, the little children are now being taught, among other lessons, to reverence and love him. . . . But a bad name dies hard, and love is a difficult thing to learn theoretically.
At the same time with John McDonogh, and side by side with him, lived his contrast, one whose name is a synonym for all that is charitable, loving, and broad-minded, the Israelite, Judah Touro.b He also came to the city in the first year of the century, and made his venture in commerce. He was at Chalmette, and, physically incapacitated from fighting, he volunteered to carry shot and shell to the batteries, and fell wounded, it was thought mortally. For thirty years he devoted himself exclusively to business, and was never seen on the streets except on his way to and from his office; and he, too, from an early disappointment in love, never married. But it is estimated that during p371his lifetime he gave away over four hundred thousand dollars in charity. For his own people he built a synagogue, an almshouse, an infirmary, purchased a cemetery, and contributed forty thousand dollars to the Jewish cemetery at Newport. He built a Christian church for a minister whom he greatly admired, and contributed to every Christian charity in the city. He subscribed twenty thousand dollars to the Bunker Hill monument. Of his private benefactions, particularly during the epidemics, the only record is, that he not only never refused and never stinted, but that he was always the first and most generous giver. He was niggardly only to himself, gratifying only the strictly necessary personal wants. His clerk once bought him a coat, and on the same day a friend bought a similar one two dollars cheaper; he made the clerk return his purchase, but a few hours later he gave five thousand dollars to the sufferers from the Mobile fire, before any demand had been made upon him.
He died in 1854. His will distributed one-half of his fortune in charity; every Hebrew congregation in the country was remembered, and a legacy was left to the project of restoring the scattered tribes of Israel to Jerusalem.
There is another figure, another story, perhaps the most original of all, that comes to us out of this little past just behind us, to which our little present played the rôle of vague, distant future. By the rush light of our reality, how clear and distinct appear to us its ideals, problems, mysteries, its enigmatical destinies! What a game of blindman's-buff our grandparents seem to be playing! What stumblings! What gropings! What irrationality! We wonder as naïvely at their p372unconsciousness of their foolishness as Iberville did at the young Indian girls who, he wrote in his journal, went naked without knowing it. And à propos of this, fancy has often suggested: suppose some Cagliostro had entered one of the vaunted, dazzling assemblages of the society of the time, and, looking upon all the beautiful and charming and distinguished women about him, had predicted to them that one woman living then in their city would be the first woman in the United States honoured by a monument; what a thrill of excitement would have passed through the beautiful faces, what a glance of expectation leap into the lovely eyes! For, in their youth and beauty, flattered by the adulation around them into the momentary immortality of belle-hood, women (intrinsically simple as the sex is about itself) might easily be startled at a ball into pretensions to the permanent immortality of a monument. Suppose that under challenge and badinage, Cagliostro had volunteered to lead them to the woman in question, with what a titter of expectation and excitement the gay rout, bursting like a Mardi Gras procession into the dark street and night outside, would have followed him. Through all the best streets, by all the best houses, away from all the good families, churches, charitable institutions, farther and farther from every possible precinct or neighbourhood of their own, to the terra incognita of back streets, alley-ways and servants' passages, winding up at last, oh, climax of the absurd! in the laundry of the St. Charles hotel, where a short, stout, good-faced young Irish woman was finishing her day's task.
There is not much to tell. Margaret Haughery's story is simple enough to be called stupid, with impunity. p373A husband and wife, fresh Irish immigrants, died in Baltimore of yellow fever, leaving their infant, named Margaret, upon the charity of the community. A sturdy young Welsh couple, who had crossed the ocean with the Irish immigrants, took the little orphan and cared for her as if she were their own child. They were Baptists, but they reared her in the faith of her parents, and kept her with them until she married a young Irishman in her own rank in life. Failing health forced the husband to remove to the warmer climate of New Orleans, and finally, for the sake of the sea voyage, to sail to Ireland, where he died. Shortly afterwards, Margaret, in New Orleans, lost her baby. To make a living, she engaged as laundress in the St. Charles hotel. This was her equipment at twenty for her monument.
Dome of the Jesuit Church.
During the four years of the war she had a hard task to maintain her business; but she never on that account diminished her contributions to the orphans, and to the needy, and to the families of Confederate soldiers.
When she died, it seemed as if people could not believe it. "Margaret dead!" Why, each one had just seen her, talked to her, consulted her, asked her for something, received something from her. The news of the death of any one else in the city would have been received with more credulity. But the journals all p376appeared in mourning, and the obituaries were there, and these obituaries, could she have read them, would have struck Margaret as the most incredible thing in the world to have happened to her. The statue was a spontaneous thought, and it found spontaneous action. While her people were still talking about her death, the fund for it was collected; it was ordered and executed; and almost before she was missed there, she was there again before the asylum she had built, sitting on her same old chair that every one knew so well, dressed in the familiar calico gown with her little shawl over her shoulders, not the old shawl she wore every day, but the pretty one of which she was so proud, which the orphans crocheted for her.
All the dignitaries of the State and city were at the unveiling of the statue. A thousand orphans, representing every asylum in the city, occupied the seats of honour; a delegation of them pulled the cords that held the canvas covering over the marble, and, as it fell, and "Margaret" appeared, their delight led the loud shout of joy, and the hand-clapping. The streets were crowded as far as the eye could see, and it was said — with, no doubt, an exaggeration of sentiment, but a pardonable one — that not a man, woman, or child in the crowd but knew Margaret and loved her. And there is an explanation of this exaggeration that might be excusably mentioned, that as the unveiling of the monument took place in the summer, when the rich go away for change of air, the crowd was composed of the poorer classes, the working people, black as well as white. As the dedication speech expressed it for them for all time: "To those who look with concern upon the moral situation of the hour, and fear that human action finds its sole motive to‑day in selfishness and greed, who imagine that the world no longer yields homage save to fortune and to power . . . the scene . . . affords comfort and cheer. When we see the people of this great city meet without distinction of age, rank, or creed, with one heart, to pay their tribute of love and respect to the humble woman who passed her quiet life among us under the simple name of 'Margaret,' we come fully to know, to feel, and to appreciate, et matchless power of a well-spent life. . . . The substance of her life was charity, the spirit of it, truth, the strength of it, religion, the end, peace — then fame and immortality."
Out of theº same period came, also, Paul Tulane, who endowed the city with a university.
p378 "Gesta dei per francos,"º as the device went of the preux chevaliers of France among the Crusaders: we must credit this great benefactor to the mother country and mother blood of Louisiana. The family of Tulane figures in the earliest records of Tours, in which, for one hundred and fifty years, various members of it held an eminent judicial office. The immediate family of Paul Tulane were Huguenots; his father emigrated to St. Domingo, where, as a merchant with business connections in the United States and France, he accumulated great wealth. He lost it all there in the revolution. Barely escaping, with his family, the massacre in which most of his relatives and friends perished, he sought refuge in the United States, and established himself near Princeton, New Jersey. The straitened circumstances of his father could grant but a meagre education to young Paul Tulane. At sixteen he was working on the family's farm, and assisting in a small grocery at Princeton. His cousin, the son of the probate judge at Tours, travelling in the United States through the South and West, took him as companion. The journey lasted three years and was filled with all the adventures and experiences with which travelling in that day was replete. Two incidents of the journey were ever afterwards outstanding in Tulane's memory: a visit to General Jackson at the Hermitage and meeting on a steamboat in Kentucky some French-speaking gentlemen, Creoles from New Orleans, who were taking their sons to college. This struck him, coming from Princeton, as most strange. "Is it true," he asked, "that there is no college in New Orleans where the young men can be educated?" These words and his surprise recurred to him again and again in after life. p379Attracted, doubtless, by the nationality of the place, he came, in 1822, to New Orleans. An epidemic of yellow fever was raging at the time, but he needed to work, and found it easier to secure a good situation then when there were so many vacant from death and abandonment than at a pleasanter season. Industrious, prudent, frugal, and unquestionably honourable in every transaction, he soon rose from a subordinate position and engaged in business for himself, making, in course of time, not only a living, but a fortune, alongside of the older McDonogh, Touro, and the many other great fortune makers of the day. Paying a visit, fifteen years later, to France with his father, the latter took occasion, as they were passing through Nantes and Bordeaux, to call his attention to the depressed commercial situation of the once prosperous cities, the deserted harbours, empty, rotting warehouses; brought about by the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. He predicted a like fate for New Orleans, and reminding his son of the ruin of his own fortune in St. Domingo, warned him against investing his money in the South. The young merchant, therefore, placed the bulk of his profits in New Jersey, although for a quarter of a century afterwards he realized princely rentals from his investments in New Orleans.
There are no dramas, no romances, tragedies, nor passions told of Tulane, although he never married. His life was that of a merchant intent on business; of a man of dignity, distinction, refinement, and means. The newspapers did not publish such things then, therefore there is only private testimony to establish it, but it was always said of him, from the beginning of his career in New Orleans, that in proportion to his p380means, he gave away more in charity than any other man in the United States. The only anecdotes extant about him relate to his love for New Orleans and for its people. He was fond of boasting that he had eaten fifty-one Fourth of July dinners in the place.
The day predicted by his father came to pass; the question of slavery brought revolution and ruin into the city. A strong sympathizer with the South, Tulane gave liberally to the families of Confederate soldiers in the city, and was the ever ready helper of Confederate prisoners. His personal losses by the war were great, but they were naught in comparison with those who, losing only thousands, lost their all; with families turned upon the world as destitute as his own had been by the revolution of St. Domingo. Commonplace as such things are in print, they strike with an awful originality into one's own experience, and the old merchant felt keenly the change in the fortunes about him. After his fifty-first Fourth of July dinner, he returned to his family in New Jersey to end his days, being then past his three-score years and ten.
This was in 1873, the darkest period of the city's social and political disorganization. Tulane could not, perhaps, in the whole prosperous triumphant North, have found a more striking contrast to his "beloved Crescent City," as he called it, than was offered by Princeton; the opulent little college town, with its fine old buildings, libraries, and museums, its distinguished society of resident professors, its shaded streets swarming with handsome, happy students. In the old days Princeton had been a favourite college with the South. In the arrogant spirit of the time, it was considered p381aristocratic and the best place North for the education of a gentleman's son, and its rolls had carried generation after generation of the best families from every Southern State. Crowded as were the streets of Princeton then, few Southern faces were to be met; from New Orleans it was doubtful if one could be found.
And the old question and exclamation in Paul Tulane's mind had become now a melancholy confession, with an addendum. There was no college in New Orleans for the education of her boys, and there was no money to educate them elsewhere. Had all the revenues of Louisiana been turned into the public schools after the close of the Civil War, it would not have more than sufficed for the urgent needs of the moment. Besides the white children, there was now another entire population of the State, the negroes, to be taught, and of these not merely the children, but the grown men and women, clamouring, in their new freedom, for the school rudiments, the alphabet, spelling-book, and arithmetic. But the public schools, with the other branches of the state government, had been made a factor in politics by the Reconstructionists, and with all the millions wrung from the taxpayers to meet the misappropriations of factional legislatures, a mere pittance had been granted to the cause of education. Northern philanthropy came to the rescue of the negro race; colleges and universities for their benefit, handsomely equipped and well endowed, were soon in full operation all over the South. In New Orleans two universities were established for them. For the whites, there was the shell of the old University of Louisiana; and it retained corporate existence p382only through the Schools of Medicine and of Law.1
The School of Medicine, established in 1835, had made a brilliant record for itself before the war; not only for the ability and distinction of its faculty, but for the advantages in practical institution it offered, through its Charity hospital. It maintained itself during the war and disorders following the disaster; and now, the only institution of its kind in reach of the impoverished students of the Gulf States, overstretched its dimensions and capacity to fulfill the demands made upon it. The Law School, founded in 1847, with a record only less brilliant than the medical department, had also survived its trials, to throw open its lecture-rooms to a swarm of eager aspirants. The Academic department, organized at the same time at the Law School, could not, in a community wholly in favour of a foreign education for its youth, have had other than an apathetic career. Kept up before the war only by the strenuous exertion of a few public-spirited citizens, it went under completely in the floods of war and reconstruction.
When the Louisianans came into possession of their own government again, in an effort to retrieve the past and to restore to their children their rightful opportunity of education, the Academic department was reorganized; but the State, overloaded with debt, p385could do little more than provide a building and a poorly paid faculty. The professors, young Southerners who had thrown themselves into the work with the zeal and devotion of patriot missionaries, found their time and strength more and more hopelessly overmatched by the increasing number of students; who, in their brilliant achievements of study, in their noble emulation to relieve parental responsibility and retrieve their political birthright, were as fine a body of students, their professors say, as ever responded to institution. The very fact of their being so overmatched, however, fortified the determination and courage of the young professors, and they battled strong-heartedly in their class-rooms, fighting only for time, only to hold their Thermopylae until help should arrive. Their students speak of them to‑day as the students of the old college of Orleans speak of their professors.
Friends from New Orleans visiting Tulane describe the old Creole merchant as a hale, hearty man of medium height, with broad shoulders, compact figure, shrewd, kind face; energetic in speech and nervous in action, always sitting on the balcony of his great mansion, or walking in his spacious gardens and parks; and always asking questions about his old home and the friends left behind. This was his favourite theme of conversation; the city and the people, — going, with the insistence of the old, over and over the old names and old events, with all the comments suggested by his wisdom, sympathy, and experience. There was but one answer possible to his questions, as the old man himself knew: hard times, suffering, and want; very few, that is, very few of the rich citizens of his early days, but were engaged in a hand-to‑hand struggle for existence; p386widows giving lessons, boys and girls put to shop work. There were, of course, some rich people, and fortunes were still accumulating there; but the exceptions only heightened the contrast of the change that had come over the others.
To such a man, it was not the loss of fortune, the turning of luxurious aristocrats into wage earners, that counted; it was the apparent hopeless condemnation of a proud generation to a penalty of illiteracy from which even their former slaves were being reprieved; the depriving the young irrevocably, for lack of money, of the only means of preserving their autonomy in the face of money and of a money-ruled community. He was told of the young professors in their college, holding their defile, thinking every moment must end the struggle, and he bought the building and presented it to them, that, at least, no students should be neglected for want of room. This building, selected on account of its proximity to the School of Law and Medicine and the Academic department, was none other, by strange historic coincidence, than the blood-stained hall that held the Constitutional Convention of 1868, since known as Tulane Hall. And then the thought of a university began to work in the only quarter from which it seems relief could come to the white youth of New Orleans: in the brain of Paul Tulane. Two years later, in the spring of 1882, he made his donation in the following letter, addressed to committee of gentlemen of the city:—
"A resident of New Orleans for many years of my active life, having formed many friendships and associations there dear to me, and deeply sympathizing with its people in whatever misfortunes or disasters may have befallen them, as well as being sincerely desirous p387of contributing to their moral and intellectual welfare, I do hereby express to you my intention to donate to you . . . all the real estate I own and am possessed of in the city of New Orleans . . . for the promotion and encouragement of intellectual, moral, and industrial education among the white young persons in the city of New Orleans . . . for the advancement of learning and letters, the arts and sciences." A sudden memory of the old times, the gay ante-bellum period, must have occurred to him. "By term education, I mean to foster such a course of intellectual development as shall be useful and of solid worth, and not merely ornamental or superficial. I mention you should adopt the course which, as wise and good men, would committee itself to you as being conducive to immediate practical benefit, rather than theoretical possible advantage. . . .
"With devout gratitude to our Heavenly Father, for enabling us to form these plans, and invoking his divine blessing upon you and your counsels, and upon the good work proposed among the present and future generations of our beloved Crescent City, I remain with great respect,
"Your friend and humble servant,
It was just two centuries and a few weeks from the date of La Salle's Prise de Possession and project of founding a city on the banks of the Mississippi. The city's grand climactericc may now be said to have been reached, — her history, to have entered a new era.
The endowment made amounts to one million and fifty thousand dollars. By a contract with the State, the administrators of the Tulane fund were made the administrators of the University of Louisiana, which became the Tulane University of Louisiana, and as such went into organization in 1884. After ten years' life in the old location, a nobler site has been provided for it, opposite the historic grounds of Audubon Park, upon which buildings have been erected worthy of the p388purpose and design expressed in the letter of their founder.
The good man lived only long enough to see his great gift started on its mission, for it may be said of such gifts what Milton said of books, that they "do contain a progeny of life in them, to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are."
Following close upon Tulane University, and made a department of it, came the H. Sophie Newcomb College for young women, established in 1886 by the widow of another successful New Orleans merchant. The Richardson Medical Building, the new home for the old medical college, commemorates the name of a distinguished and honoured physician and professor, and of his widow, who erected the building. The Howard Memorial Library, a reference library, making towards a rare and most valuable collection of Louisiana bibliography, is the pious tribute of a daughter to the memory of her father. These are all children of the spirit of Paul Tulane. It is only the respectful silence, imposed by the living presence of the donors among us, that closes the lips of the eulogist of to‑day; the praise, however, can safely be confided to the future.
A bit of cornice.
Critical European travellers aver that they recognize by a thousand shades in the colouring of the New Orleans carnival, the Spanish, rather than the French influence, citing as evidence the innocent and respectful fooleries of street maskers, the dignity of the great street parades, the stately etiquette of the large public mask balls, the refined intrigue of the private ones. These characteristic naturally escape the habituated eyes of the natives. The old French and Spanish spirit of the carnival has in their eyes been completely destroyed p391by the innovation of American ideas, as they are still called. For it was an American idea to organize the carnival, to substitute regular parades for the old impromptu mummery in the streets, and to unite into two or three great social assemblages the smaller public mask balls that were scattered through the season, from Twelfth Night to Mardi Gras. The modification was a necessary one in a place where society had so rapidly outgrown the limiting surveillance of a resident governor and of an autocratic court circle; and if much seems to have be lost of the old individual exuberance of wit and fun, specimens of which have come down to us in so many fascinating episodes from the always socially enviable past, the gain in preserving at least the forms of the old society through the social upheaval and chaos of revolution and civil war has been real and important.
The celebration of Mardi Gras is an episode that never becomes stale to the people of the city, however monotonous the description or even the enumeration of its entertainments appears to strangers. At any age it makes a Creole woman young to remember it as she saw it at eighteen; and the description of what it appeared to the eyes of eighteen would be, perhaps, the only fair description of it, for if Mardi Gras means anything, it means illusion; and unfortunately, when one attains one's majority in the legal world, one ceases to be a citizen of Phantasmagoria.
There is a theory, usually bruited by the journals on Ash Wednesday morning, that Mardi Gras is a utilitarian festival; that it pays. But this deceives no one in the city. It is assumed, as sacramental ashes are by many, perfunctorily, or merely for moral effect upon p392others, upon those who are committed, by birth or conviction, against pleasure for pleasure's sake. To the contrite journalist, laying aside mask and domino, to pen such an editorial, it must seem indeed at such a time a disheartening fact that money-making is the only pleasure in the United States that meets with universal journalistic approbation.
There is a tradition that the tyrannies of the carnival show a no more satisfactory divine right to their thrones than other royalties; that the kings are the heavy contributors to the organization, and that a queen's claims upon the council boards of the realm of beauty are not entirely by reason of her personal charm. There is such a tradition, but it is never recognized at carnival time, and seldom believed by the ones most interested; never, never, by the society neophyte of the season. Ah, no! Comus, Momus, Proteus, the Lord of Misrule, Rex, find ever in New Orleans the hearty loyalty of the most unquestioned Jacobinism; and the real mask of life never portrays more satisfactorily the fictitious superiority of consecrated individualism in European monarchies than, in the Crescent City, do these sham faces, the eternal youth and beauty of the carnival royalties.
p393 There is a tradition that young matrons have recognized their husbands in their masked cavaliers at balls; and that the Romeo incognito of many a débutante has been resolved into a brother, or even (beshrew the suspicion!) a father; but at least it is not the débutante who makes the discovery. Her cavalier is also beyond peradventure her illusion, living in the Elysium of her future, as the cavalier of the matron is always some no less cherished illusion from the Elysium of the past. As it is the desire of the young girl to be the subject of these illusions, so it is the cherished desire of the young boy to become the object of them. To put on mask and costume, to change his personality; to figure some day in the complimentary colouring of a prince of India, or of a Grecian god, or even to ape the mincing graces of a dancing girl or woodland nymph; to appear to the inamorata, clouded in the unknown, as the ancient gods did of old to simple shepherdesses; and so to excite her imagination and perhaps more; this is the counterpart of the young girls' illusions in the young boy's dreams. A god is only a man when he is in love; and a man, all a god.
Utilitarian! Alas, no! Look at the children! But they nevertheless have always furnished the sweetest delight of Mardi Gras, as Rex himself must acknowledge from his throne chariot. It is the first note of the day, the twittering of the children in the street, the jingling of the bells on their cambric costumes. What a flight of masquerading butterflies they are! And what fun! what endless fun for them, too, to mystify, to change their chubby little personalities, to hide their cherub faces under a pasteboard mask, and run from house to house of friends and relations, making people p394guess who they are, and frightening the good-natured servants in the kitchen into such convulsions of terror! And they are all going to be Rex some day, as in other cities the little children are all going to be President.
Profitable! Ah, yes! Ask the crowd in the street; that human olla podrida of carelessness, joviality, and colour; more red, blue, and yellow gowns to the block than can be met in a mile in any other city of the United States. Ask the larking bands of maskers; the strolling minstrels and monkeys; the coloured torchbearers and grooms; Bedouin princes in their scarlet tunics and turbans (no travesty this, but the rightful costume, as the unmasked, black face testifies). Even the mules that draw the cars recognize the true profit of the Saturnalian spirit of the carnival, and in their gold-stamped caparisons, step out like noble steeds of chivalry, despite their ears.
The Boeuf Gras.
The day is so beautiful, so beautiful that it is a local saying that it never rains on Mardi Gras. It were a better saying that it never should rain on Mardi Gras.
And yet, if it were granted a native in exile to return p395to the city upon but one day of the year, that day would be All Saints, le jour des morts, the home festival of the city, for it comes at a season when there are few, if any, strangers visiting the place. The denizens from other regions, without the sentiment of the day in their hearts, make it a holiday for out-of‑town excursions; hunting parties, country jaunts. They have not their dead with them. They do not travel, as people of old did, to a new habitation, with the bones of their ancestors, to consecrate the spot for them with a past, a memory; to localize it in their lives with a sentiment instead of a profit. To people of the city, the real people of the city, as they like to be called, not to observe the day means to have no dead, no ancestors.
Chapel of St. Roche.
It is heralded well in advance. For a month before its advent the bead ex‑votos and tissue paper crowns hang in the shop windows, and local gossip busies itself as to whether the chrysanthemums will bloom in time, and what their price will be; and the dressmakers prepare against the annual rush for new mourning for the day, as, later on, they prepare against the Mardi Gras rush for ball dresses.
p396 The cemeteries, as the day nears, become more like cities of the living than of the dead, from the noise, bustle, and activity around their dread gates and through their solemn pathways, of gardeners, masons, and cleaners making ready the tombs for their anniversary. Judgment day itself could not be more excitingly prepared for. Outside, the banquettes are turned into a market place for every requisite of sepulchral cleanliness and ornament; hillocks of sand and shell, plants in pots or hampers, flowers in baskets, trays of plaster images, and, hanging on the wall, wreaths, hearts, crosses, and anchors of dried immortelles, artificial roses, or curled, glazed, white, black and purple paper. Close along the gutters, the perambulating refreshment booths are ranged; and the coloured marchandes, in tignons and fichus, with their baskets of molasses candy, pralines, and pain-patate — all crying their wares at once.
On the last day of October, the flower venders come, filling the banquettes all around the churches and markets, securing stations at the corners of the streets, where, under the flare of torches, they sell their white chrysanthemum crosses, crowns, baskets later into the night. There are never flowers enough, despite season, nature, or artifice; how can there be when everybody, even to the beggars, must have some; for even the beggars have their dead somebody to remember, their grave somewhere to decorate. By daylight of All Saints, the early church-goers say in quaint figure of speech, that the city smells like a cemetery, meaning the fragrance of it from the flowers everywhere.
It is a day that begins very early on account of the p397crowd. The little orphans, under charge of Sisters, or Matrons, hasten betimes from their asylums, to take their positions inside the gates, behind tables, where they chink pieces of silver on plates to remind the passing throng that they are orphans and represent a double interest in and claim upon the day.
Tomb of the Ursuline Nuns,
Although the city, on no other occasion, affords the eye an assemblage of its populace that can compare in interest with the concourse in the streets and cemeteries on this day, consecrated to memory of the dead; and although there is, also, none so inherent appealing to the heart, how can one describe it? To speak of it at all is to speak of it too much. The external, the obvious features of it, are but as the undertaker's paraphernalia to the sentiment of death. The p398aged ones, themselves so close to death, white-haired, bent-backed, clasping their memorials in palsied hands; the little ones tripping gaily along with carefully shielded bouquet; the inmate from the almshouse hobbling among the pauper graves; the wrinkled negro mammies and uncles with their tokens; the coloured people going to their cemeteries; the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, around their gaudily draped mausoleums; — one can only enumerate details like that.
When De la Tour made the plan of the city, and allotted the space for church purposes, he allotted also space outside the city ramparts for a cemetery; and so long as the city lived and died within sound of the bells of the parish church of St. Louis, this one cemetery — the old St. Louis cemetery as it is called — sufficed. It is the mother cemetery of the city, the vieux carré of the dead; as confused and closely packed a quarter as the living metropolis, whose ghostly counterpart it is; with tombs piled in whatever way space could be found, and walls lined with tier upon tiers of receptacles, "ovens" as they are termed in local parlance; the lowest row sunken into a semi-burial themselves, in the soft earth beneath. The crumbling bricks of the first resting-places built there are still to be seen, draped over with a wild growth of vine, which on sunshiny days are alive with scampering, flashing, green and gold lizards. On All Saints a flower could not be laid amiss anywhere in this enclosure; there is not in it an inch of earth that has not performed its share of kindly hospitality to some bit of humanity.d
Block after block in the rear of the first cemetery has been walled in and added to the original enclosure, the effort always being made to keep on the outskirts of p399habitations. But the great continuous immigration of the "flush" times ever extending the limits of the city, the outskirts of one decade grew into populous centres of the next, and the cemeteries became enisled in the dwellings of the living.
The festival of the dead might be called the festival of the history of the city. Year after year from under their decorations of evergreens and immortelles, roses and chrysanthemums, the tombstones recall to the All-Saints pilgrims the names and dates of the past; identifying the events with the sure precision of geological strata. On them are chronicled the names of the French and Canadian first settlers; the Spanish names and Spanish epitaphs of that domination; the names of the émigrés from the French revolution; from the different West Indian islands; the names of the refugees from Napoleon's army; the first sprinkling of American names; and those interesting English names that tell how the wounded prisoners of Pakenham's army preferred remaining in the land of their captivity, to returning home. The St. Louis cemetery for the coloured people unfolds the chapter of the coloured immigration, and by epitaph and name furnishes the links of their history.
The first Protestant cemetery (very far out of the city in its day, now in the centre) bears the name of the French Protestant mayor and philanthropist, Nicolas Girod. It belongs to the Faubourg Ste. Marie period, and in it are found the names of the pioneers of her enterprise; of the first great American fortune makers, the first great political leaders, the brilliant doctors of law, medicine, and divinity, who never have died from the memory of the place. In it is to be found the tomb p400of that beautiful woman and charming actress, Miss Placide, with the poetical epitaph written for her by Caldwell; the lines which every woman in society in New Orleans, fifty years ago, was expected to know and repeat. The Mexican war is commemorated in it by a monument to one of the heroes and victims, General Bliss. The great epidemics make their entries year after year; pathetic reading it is; all young, strong, and brave, according to their epitaphs, and belonging to the best families. The epidemics of '52 and '53 date the opening of new cemeteries, in which the lines of the ghastly trenches are still to be traced.
The Metairie cemetery (transformed from the old race track) contains the archives of the new era — after the civil war and the reconstruction. In it are Confederate monuments, and the tombs of a grandeur surprising all previous local standards. As the saying is, it is a good sign of prosperity when the dead seem to be getting richer.
The old St. Louis cemetery is closed now. It opens its gates only at the knock of an heir, so to speak; gives harbourage only to those who can claim a resting-place by the side of an ancestor. Between All Saints and All Saints, its admittances are not a few, and the registry volumes are still being added to; the list of names, in the first crumbling old tome, is still being repeated, over and over again; some of them so old and so forgotten in the present that death has no oblivion to add to them. Indeed, we may say they live only in the death register.
Not a year has gone by since, on a January day, one of the bleakest winter days the city had known for half a century, a file of mourners followed one of the p401city's oldest children, and one of the cemetery's most ancient heirs, to his last resting-place by the side of a grandfather. The silver crucifix gleamed fitfully ahead, appearing and disappearing as it led the way in the maze of irregularly built tombs, through pathways, hollowed to a furrow, by the footsteps of the innumerable funeral processions that had followed the dead since the first burials there. The chanting of the priests winding in and out after the crucifix, fell on the ear in detached fragments, rising and dropping as the tombs closed in or opened out behind them. The path, with its sharp turns, was at times impassable to the coffin, and it had to be lifted above the tombs and borne in the air, on a level with the crucifix. With its heavy black draperies, its proportions in the grey humid atmosphere appeared colossal, magnified, and transfigured with the ninety-one years of life inside. It was Charles Gayarré being conveyed to the tomb of M. de Boré, the historian of Louisiana making his last bodily appearance on earth — in the corner of earth he had loved so well and so poetically.
Woman and mother as she ever appeared in life to the loving imagination of her devoted son, it was but fitting that New Orleans should herself head the file of mourners and weep bitterly at the tomb; for that she lives at all in that best of living worlds, the world of history, romance, and poetry, she owes to him whom brick and mortar were shutting out forever from human eyes. As a youth, he consecrated his first ambitions to her; through manhood, he devoted his pen to her; old, suffering, bereft by misfortune of his ancestral heritage, and the fruit of his prime's vigour and industry, he yet stood ever her courageous knight, to defend p402her against the aspersions of strangers, the slanders of traitors. He held her archives not only in his memory but in his heart, and while he lived, none dared make public aught about her history except with his vigilant form in the line of vision.
The streets of the vieux carré, through which he gambolled as a schoolboy, and through which his hearse had slowly rolled; the cathedral in which he was baptized, and in which his requiem was sung; and the old cemetery, the resting-place of his ancestors, parents, and forbears, and the sanctuary in which his imagination ever found inspiration and courage — they gave much to his life; but his life also gave much to them. And the human eyes looking out through their sadness of personal bereavement from the carriages of the funeral cortège, saw in them a thousand signs (according to the pathetic fallacy of humanity) of like sadness and bereavement.
Thus it is, that one beholden to him for a long life's endowment of affection, help, and encouragement, judges it meet that a chronicle begun under his auspices, to which he contributed so richly from his memory, and of whose success he was so tenderly solicitous, should end, as it began, with a tribute to his memory and name.e
A rear view of the city.
1 An explanation seems here due to the reader, that a chapter containing the history of the Charity Hospital, an account of the New Orleans Bench and Bar, the return of the Jesuits and their educational work in the community, and summary of various charitable institutions and libraries, has, for fear of immeasurably prolonging the volume, been omitted.
a Nowhere in the entire book does the author so much as mention either Franklin or any statue of him. Somewhat further down, St. Roche (properly, St. Roch?) Cemetery will be depicted: it is never mentioned either, although at least it fits with the topics cemeterial discussed in this chapter. I suspect that had the book been finished the way the author seems to have wanted — see her note immediately above — these loose ends would have found their niche.
b A more detailed biographical sketch is provided in the Jewish Encyclopedia. That sketch is inaccurate, however, in one important respect: Touro did not by any means "[give] liberally to charitable objects during his entire life"; see "A Reappraisal of Judah Touro" (Jewish Quarterly 45:568‑581). For a formal account of the Touro Fund, Kendall's History of New Orleans, pp645‑646.
c An odd use of the word climacteric. The grand climacteric, which was at 63 years alright, was, according to ancient astrologers and doctors, the time when a person might fear the greatest danger to their health — and death, of course. (For a masterly debunking of the whole climacterical scheme, at great length and in the most beautiful English prose, see Sir Thomas Browne's chapter on the subject: Vulgar Errors, IV.12.)
d St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, as it is called these days, has recently been the object of restoration and preservation, and of a detailed website, by the Architectural Conservation Laboratory and Research Center of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania.
Images with borders lead to more information.
and the People
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 25 Oct 13