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The Potiphar Papers   By: (1824-1892)

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[Illustration: George William Curtis]

THE POTIPHAR PAPERS

BY

GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS

[Illustration: ILLUSTRATED BY A. HOPPIN]

"Imagination fondly stoops to trace The parlor splendors of that festive place."

Goldsmith's Deserted Village.

"Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarise or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."

Burke's First Letter on a Regicide Peace.

"And I do seriously approve of that saying of yours, 'that you would rather be a civil, well governed, well grounded, temperate, poor angler, than a drunken lord.' But I hope there is none such."

Walton's Angler.

"'Mon petit faquin de philosophé,' dit le Chevalier de Grammont, 'tu fais ici le Caton de Normandie.'"

"'Est ce que je mens?' poursuivit Saint Evremond."

Memoires de Grammont.

PREFATORY LETTER TO REV. CREAM CHEESE.

REV. AND DEAR SIR:

It is surely unnecessary to call the attention of so astute an observer, and so austere a critic, as yourself, to the fact that the title of the leading essay in this little volume (of which, permit me to say, you are so essential an ornament) is marked as a quotation; and a quotation, as you will very well remember, from the lips of our friend, Mrs, Potiphar, herself.

Therefore, Rev. Sir, your judgment, which, you must allow me to say, is no less impartial than your experience is profound, will suggest to you that the subject of that essay (of the points of which the succeeding sketches are but elaborations) is the aspect of what is currently termed "our best society" whether with reason or not, is beside the purpose.

Your pastoral charity, I am convinced, will persuade you to direct the attention of your parishioners to this fact, and to assure them, that, when you prepared your timely treatise upon the progress of purple chasubles among the Feejee islanders, you were not justly amenable to the charge of omitting all notice of the cultivation of artificial flowers by the Grim Tartars. The latter are, I believe, a very estimable people, but they were not the subjects of your consideration.

To those in your parish, and elsewhere, who have thought fit to suppose that Mrs. Potiphar is Mrs. Somebody else, what can we say? conscious as we are, that they who have once known that lady could never confound her with another.

But for those who have actually supposed you, yourself, Reverend Sir, to be, not somebody else, but nobody, (!) we can only smile compassionately, and express the hope that a broader experience may give them greater wisdom.

In taking leave of you, Sir, I know that I express the warmest wish of a large, a very large parish (might almost say, diocese) that you may long survive. For your parish is fully, and, as I think, most correctly persuaded, that while there is a Cream Cheese, there will always be a Mrs. Potiphar.

With all proper regard,

I am,

Reverend and Dear Sir,

Your very obedient,

humble servant,

THE EDITOR.

NEW YORK, December , 1853.

I.

"OUR BEST SOCIETY."

If gilt were only gold, or sugar candy common sense, what a fine thing our society would be! If to lavish money upon objets de vertu , to wear the most costly dresses, and always to have them cut in the height of the fashion; to build houses thirty feet broad, as if they were palaces; to furnish them with all the luxurious devices of Parisian genius; to give superb banquets; at which your guests laugh, and which make you miserable; to drive a fine carriage and ape the European liveries, and crests, and coats of arms; to resent the friendly advances of your baker's wife, and the lady of your butcher, (you being yourself a cobbler's daughter); to talk much of the "old families" and of your aristocratic foreign friends; to despise labour; to prate of "good society;" to travesty and parody, in every conceivable way, a society which we know only in books and by the superficial observation of foreign travel, which arises out of a social organization entirely unknown to us, and which is opposed to our fundamental and essential principles; if all this were fine, what a prodigiously fine society would ours be!

This occurred to us upon lately receiving a card of invitation to a brilliant ball... Continue reading book >>




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