Thursday, August 20, 2009

"It is not good for a girl to grow up in a large tavern"

I've been leafing (digitally) through James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson. It's a delight. Take this opening paragraph from his chapter on Peggy O'Neill Eaton. A bit Victorian, perhaps, but it makes me smile for precisely that reason:
William O'Neal kept at Washington for many years a large old-fashioned tavern, where members of Congress, in considerable numbers, boarded during the sessions of the national legislature. William O'Neal had a daughter, sprightly and beautiful, who aided him and his wife in entertaining his boarders. It is not good for a girl to grow up in a large tavern. Peg O'Neal as she was called, was so lively in her deportment, so free in her conversation, that, had she been born twenty years later, she would have been called one of the "fast" girls of Washington. A witty, pretty, saucy, active tavern-keeper's daughter, who makes free with the inmates of her father's house, and is made free with by them, may escape contamination, but not calumny.

About the illustration:
A mild satire on Jackson and his Cabinet, portraying in imaginative terms a White House reception of popular French dancer and actress Madame Celeste. Seated in chairs in a White House parlor are six cabinet members. In the center Jackson sits behind a table, as "Door Keeper" Jimmy O'Neal (standing) presents Madame Celeste. The cabinet members are (left to right): Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson, Attorney General Benjamin F. Butler, Secretary of War Lewis Cass, Postmaster General Amos Kendall, Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury, and Vice-President Martin Van Buren. Each figure's remarks are an amusing reflection of his own character or reputation. Dickerson: I never felt the inconvenience of being a bachelor untill now. what I have lost!! she as gracefull as a Seventy-four under full sail. Cass: This is a very strange introduction to the Cabinet when weighty matters are under discussion; but it does not become me to complain. Jimmy O'Neal: O' she'll bother them all by the powers faith, except my friend Kendal he has no soule for a pretty woman... Celeste: Mon General, if it is "glory enough" to serve under you "ma foi" vat is my grand satisfaction to see you wis de Grand Cabinet of dis Grand Nation here assamble. Jackson: Charming Creature. I've not lost all my penchant for pretty women .... Kendall: I wonder how the General could ever prefer the heels to the head. He never learnt that from me. But the least said the soonest mended. Woodbury: She has grace enough to dance all the surplus Revenue out of the Treasury Hasn't she, Mr. Attorney general? Butler: She is well enough, but I have conscientious scruples on these matters. Van Buren: Pooh pooh Butler, this is not the age for scruples of any kind. I like her rapid movements, her quick changes, her gracefull transitions. She is of my school ..." Weitenkampf's association of the cartoon with the Peggy Eaton affair of 1831, where several cabinet members resigned, is mistaken since the cabinet shown here consists of later appointees. The print appears from the style and monogram to be the work of lithographic draftsman Albert Hoffay.

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