MRS. HOWELL COBB’S LETTER TO HER SON LAMAR COBB
Athens Historian Volume I (1996)
WASHINGTON, OCT. 13, 1860
[Original on deposit with the Howell Cobb collection at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia. In 1860 the Prince of Wales was 14 years old and was travelling in the United states as “Baron Renfew.” Howell Cobb was President Buchanan’s Secretary of the Treasury. Miss Lane was the bachelor president’s niece and official hostess.]
Lamar Cobb, Esq.
My dear son:
I received your kind letter enclosing the conclusion of your mountain tour, and — thank you very much for the interesting details of your excursions. I think you are perfectly right to wait at Athens for a heavy frost. The climate of Macon is different and there are diseases peculiar to the autumn which always prevail in Macon to an alarming extent. After “killing frost” there will not be so much hazard in going there to persons unaccustomed to the climate. And I beg you not to expose yourself unnecessarily to the night air. Never sit in the night air.
Oct. 14th. I have not much leisure for writing in consequence of the many interruptions inside the house as well as outside and whenever I wish to be very particular in a piece of writing or wish a quiet hour to wear off the nervous irritation that is caused by a continual excitement and noise, I withdraw to the little office, close the door, turn the key and I feel safe. Now and then a knock comes, but I give no answer because I have determined not to be interrupted unless something important is needed. The breakfast bell rings, I must leave off again. But as this is a cloudy, rainy Sunday, I have the prospect of finishing my letter after breakfast, while your grandmother is reading her quota of Fuller’s Sermons and takes up Clamming’s “Great Tribulations,” which I bought for her “Sunday reading” last week.
12:20 o’clock. I promised to give you some account of the entertainment of the Prince [of Wales] in this city. He and his retinue arrived about 4 o’clock in an express train from Balt. And were received by General Cass. The old Hero does not love “the British,” tho he was born a British subject. But in all matters of etiquette he buries all his private animosities and comes up nobly to his duty of Secretary of State, and in this particular instance he was conscientious in the discharge of all the duties resting upon him, that a stranger would have said “the British” were his peculiar favorites. But when it was all over, he relieved his long pent feelings by saying to a gentleman, “Well, the grand Humbug is over.” or something to that purport. The Prince and suite were conducted to the “White House” and presented to the President and Miss Lane. The House was in Apple Pie order, and Mrs. Thompson tells me the rooms, especially the Prince’s room and dressing room are beautifully arranged. At 6 the President had a grand state dinner in the State Dining Room. The Prince and Suite, Lord Lyons, Mr. Ervine (British Secretary), the Cabinet Officers and their wives, Mrs. Ellis (niece to Vice Pres. Wm. R. King) who was an inmate of the White House during the Prince’s visit. The Misses Pleasanton, Capt. Pleasanton (aide to Gen. Harvey), Mr. and Mrs. Browne (“of the Constitution”) composed the company. We were only presented by the President to the Prince. Your father had known Sir Henry Holland (Queen Victoria’s physician and the President says, the greatest man of his profession now living) in his visit to America a year ago, and he brought him and introduced him to me. The President took me to the table. The Duke of Newcastle, Mrs. Ellis sat to my right. The Earl of St. Germain and Mrs. Floyd sat to the left of the President, next to them Mrs. Black and your father, then Judge Black. Mr. Thompson sat beyond Mrs. Ellis, so did Mr. Toucey, the last next to Mrs. Ellis. On the opposite side of the table sat the Prince and Miss Lane. To Miss Lane’s right, Lord Lyons and Mrs. Thompson, Mr. Holt, Miss Clementina Pleasanton, Sir Henry Holland, etc. To the right of the Prince Mrs. Toucey and Gov. Floyd, Mrs. Browne, etc. The company was agreeable and the Dinner was splendid. The President, however, grew fidgety and about ten minutes before we left the table, he called a waiter and said, “The dinner is too long, hurry the courses. The Prince is getting tired.” Not very long after, he looked at Miss Lane and showed symptoms of an intention to rise. I [was] washing my hands to be ready. Just then grapes – Black Hamburgs and the Muscat of Alexa, appeared. “Ah,” says the President. “Grapes! The grapes of Esbecol!” Helped himself, asking the waiter “which were the best” (the white he said) and remarking to me that “the grapes of California were said to be far superior to those of Esbecol.”
As I had never seen any but an enormous bunch in Brandy which was once sent to Secretary Thompson as a curiosity, I could not affirm the opinion. As soon as the President dispatched his grapes, he arose. I dipped my fingers in the finger bowl again and wiping them hurriedly on the doily as I was rising. We left the table. Mrs. Black said she had just commenced eating her grapes, and Gov. Floyd declared he “had not seen a grape” and when I said I washed my hands as I was rising from the table, he said he “did not have time to wash his hands nor his throat. The fact was the grapes had not quite circulated around the table and there were other courses, and French kisses still on the side tables to be handed when we left the dining room. Mrs. Floyd sat so she could see Miss Lane and she saw her making signs to leave sometime before we did. Perhaps as the Prince had been traveling all day, the haste was occasioned by a fear that the Prince might fall asleep at table.
Mrs. Browne had said laughingly a few days previous that “she would not be surprised if he should fall asleep at table.” I inferred it was a privilege that Royalty enjoy to sleep at pleasure. As we were entering the Blue Room again the Marine Band stationed in the vestibule commenced playing and continued to do so in the most approved style until the company left the White House. The company dispersed themselves about the room, while Miss Lane, the Prince, Mrs. Thompson and Lord Lyons slipped into the green room and arranged themselves at a card table in one corner. Another table was placed in the opposite corner where Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Browne, Mr. Cobb and Miss Cleme Pleasanton soon seated themselves. The Prince’s table was quiet, fearfully decorous, while the Secretaries’ table was hilarious as if the players were in a private parlor. There is no suppressing American bon hommes even in the presence of “Royalty” and “nobility.” The other table lacked soul and after a few games Miss Lane and the Prince left off card playing. This appearance of cards in the President’s House was considerable admission on his part to pander to the pleasure of a sprig of Royalty. He (President) detests cards, commends me for my influence in keeping cards out of my house, and if he knows cards are to be played at any place where Miss Lane is invited socially, he objects to her going. But Miss Lane is devoted to cards. When we were leaving we as usual shook hands with the President and Miss Lane, and approaching the Prince, we bowed, but he came forward as each lady bowed with a smile on his face and extended his bare hand in the most gracious inviting manner with a smile on his face, which none of us could resist. We merely bowed to the other gentlemen and passed out. Mrs. Gwin dined at the second dinner and she says she rolled up her gloves that touched the Prince’s hand and placed them in a “golden egg” which was sent to her from London by a friend last winter for a glove holder. I shall hunt mine up, mark them “Baron Renfew” and put them in the family archives. The next day from 12 to 1 o’c. there was a public reception at the President’s but “the notice” was so brief and the time so limited not one half of the people got in the house before the reception was over. The Prince either led by curiosity or by a benevolent desire to gratify the disappointed populace walked to the windows on the front Portico and sat a while giving the people outside the House an opportunity of seeing him. Afterwards the Prince and Suite went with Mr. Thompson to the Patent Office and other Public buildings. They visited the Capitol before the reception at 12 o’c. Between 4 and 4 o’c. Miss Lane, the Prince and several of his suite, and Mr. and Mrs. Thompson went according to a previous arrangement to the school of Mrs. Eliza Smith (fashionable school) where there is a nine pin alley and rolled nine pins. The Prince had never rolled nine pins until he visited Niagara Falls where he played nearly all night so deeply interested he was. He asked Miss Lane if there was a Bowling Saloon where he would go with her to try her skill. Miss Lane asked Mrs. Thompson to ask Mrs. Smith’s consent and Mrs. Smith was only too happy to gratify the Prince and in her enthusiasm gave up the alley unconditionally to Miss Lane and her party. Afterwards when she wanted to secure for her scholars “a peep at the Prince” Miss Lane refused, as she had promised the Prince the Alley should be private. Your father asked Mrs. Thompson to take charge of Mary Ann and Sarah which she did readily, cordially in her sweetest of sweet manners. That won your father’s admiration more than ever. Therefore the little sisters went to “the Alley” and saw the Prince “good” while he was rolling pins and also the Duke of Newcastle and others. The Prince rolled awkwardly and Miss Lane beat him badly. The children came home delighted and satisfied. Mary Ann said “she thought the Prince very handsome” (true). “Mama, I don’t know why they always send such ugly Englishmen to this country,” Sarah chimed in. “I don’t think the Prince pretty. He ain’t as pretty as Brother Bajer, nor brothers Johnie nor Howell.”
In the evening the President had his second dinner, at which the Senators were present who were in the city and officers of the army and navy were present with the Foreign Ministers and their wives. The President was more patient evidently as the ladies were displaying their handsome Bonbons during the evening. After dinner, invited guests went in at 9 o’clock to a party, cards of invitation having been issued in Miss Lane’s name. I suppose about 500 persons were invited. Fire works begun at 9 o’c. in the Mall back of the President’s grounds. The party was very agreeable. The supper handsome and abundant. The fire works were splendid in spite of the damp night. Next morning Friday 5th the Prince and suite, the President, Miss Lane, Mr. Cobb, Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, Judge and Mrs. Black, Gen. Cass, Mr. and Mrs. Riggs and daughter, Mr. and Miss Seaton, Lord Lyons, Lucy Gwin, Misses Ledyard, Misses Slidell, Mr. Browne went on the “Harriet Lane” (Revenue Cutter) to Mt. Vernon. Surveyed the entire house, garden and immediate grounds. The Prince planted an acorn near Washington’s grave and said he would take home some of the same kind of acorns and have them planted in Richmond Park, Engd. The party returned to the Cutter, where a sumptuous collation had been spread under “Gautiers” superintendence. Then followed music and dancing on deck. The Prince first led out Miss Lane, and as he seated her at the end of the dance, he was heard to say in a whisper, “Now, Miss Lane, who must I dance with next?” Miss Lane then designated Miss Lucy Gwin, when he asked the same question until Miss Lane had designated Miss Slidell and Miss Ledyard when they discovered the steamer was landing at the Arsenal.
Orders had been given for the cutter to go slowly to accommodate the dancers. But after they had danced as long as your father thought was enough, he slipped around to the wheel house and asked the engineer to have some steam put on. He was due at a dinner at Lord Lyons at 7 o’clock, the same evening and also had to arrange his business at the office and pack up to leave at 5 o’clock the next morning for Georgia. Lord Lyons’ dinner had to be postponed for an hour to enable Miss Lane, Mrs. Ellis and the gentlemen to make their evening toilets. As the arrangement at Lord L’s table was different from the usual programme, you may have some curiosity to learn it. The Prince handed Miss Lane to the table and occupied Lord Lyons’ usual seat as head of his house. Lord Lyons took the other seat next to Miss Lane (right or left I can’t say as I am only giving you the account second hand). The President handed in Mrs. Ellis and took the other seat next to the Prince. In front of the Prince sat your father with the Duke of Newcastle and the Earl of St. Germain on either side. I will not designate right or left as I have not yet discovered who had the precedence of the Duke or the Earl and I will not even on paper run the risk of impinging on their dignity by locating them improperly. The Duke of Newcastle always rides in the carriage with the Prince and never lets him out of his site outside of the Prince’s room, rumor says.
Some say the Duke outranks the Earl as a noble, but the Earl on the other hand holds the highest office in the Queen’s household, so says Mrs. Jeff Davis who went to table with the Earl and she said she ranked everybody at table except Mrs. Bright. I should not have thought of this delicate point but for this, but I intend asking the President and then I will enlighten you. As you may go to England sometime and by accident be thrown in the society of the Duke and the Earl and you would be embarrassed not to know their relative positions. Now just imagine what your feelings would be!! Awful!!!!
The Prince is not tall, slender, and not particularly handsome, but good looking, German looking, very long nose, short chin, dreamy blue eyes and light brown hair. Very modest and well behaved. A nice pretty little boy. Exceedingly clean looking and precise, as if his steps, looks and movement had been taken under “Mama’s eye.” There was no dancing at the President’s on the night of the party. When asked for, the President said, “No dancing in the White House.” “You may dance on the ‘Harriet Lane,’ but nowhere else” and when he speaks thus, it is as irrevocable as the Laws of the Medes and Persians. Tell Sissie her pin cushion was put in the Prince’s room. It came home filled with pins and pin holes. Showing that the Prince’s Royal digits had come in contact with the pin cushion several times. Now if she wants if for an heir loom, etc., tell her to work me a splendid one four times as large and maybe we will strike a bargain. Perhaps Mary Ann will put on an interdict as she may want to keep it for a bridal cushion. Cora is mending slowly, still in bed, 4 weeks today since Dr. Frampton was called in. All the rest are well. I had a letter from your father yesterday. John A. met him in Marietta. Your Uncle came too on Friday night 5th and left the next morning at 5 o’c. with your father. My love to Olivia. If she will be interested with this letter show it to her. Show it to John A., Howell and Pope Barrow. When I commenced this morning, Sarah asked me who I was writing to, I said to you. She said, “Then give him my love.” The other two little ones send kisses. Your sister M.A. is at Mrs. King’s for school. I have not seen her for a week.
Mary Ann Cobb.
File away this letter. It will be historical when I am dead.
Erwin Mss. Postscript of Mrs. Howell Cobb to her son Lamar Cobb, Washington, Oct. 15, 1860.
Oct. 15, 1860
I did not go on the trip to Mt. Vernon. The week previous I had been in bed four days with Rheumatism in the back and extremities and when the Prince came, I had not recovered from the suffering and soreness that ensued from the pain. Two sights of the Prince, once at the first dinner and once at the party overwhelmed me so that I was hors de combat on Friday morning and could not join the party to Mt. Vernon.
When your father was in Georgia in August he invited Olivia to spend the coming winter with us. He wrote me he thought her parents were willing and she was inclined to come. I wrote to you immediately seconding all that Mr. Cobb had said and adding my own desire to have her come, but you have not alluded to it. Did you tell her what I had written? See her and ascertain if she entertains the proposition favorably and if you think a letter from me to Olivia will insure her coming. I will with much pleasure write it. She will rarely ever have so good an opportunity to see Washington City under as auspicious circumstances as relates to the society and then she will be here at an important crisis in our country’s history and hear fine debates in the “House and Senate.” And moreover see the greatest President that we have had since Washington and Jackson. And in Miss Lane the model of an American girl! Let me hear from you on this subject immediately. If Olivia consents, see your Cousin Mary Ann Lamar and persuade her to come again at the same time. It will be pleasanter for the two to be together, and when I can not go with them to parties, they will be company and protection for each other with your father as their escort.
All well this morning. Cora is pretty much as yesterday. With love to you, your brothers and Pope, Miss Sawyer and the girls and Sissie and Andrew. Love to Olivia especially. Lizzie sends you a kiss.
Mary Ann Cobb.