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A Letter from New York by Margaret Clayson

I have come from the country. I have seen Salvini. All emotion has to be expressed now in the above form, for Salvini rules. He is simply the greatest actor since Rachel, and his troupe the most perfect ever seen in this country. The whole plane of their acting is forty steps higher than we are accustomed to; therefore it has been slow of gaining appreciation, and the panic having burst over the devoted city just as Salvini opened, the houses have been poor. He should play, too (all actors should), in a smaller house than the Academy of Music. His first great success may therefore date from a matinée at Wallack's, where he had the most distinguished audience I have ever seen in New York, on Saturday, October 11th. Salvini lunched while here with Madame Botta, and expressed himself surprised that any one should care to go to hear him who could not understand the language. "I am sure I should not go," said the great actor. He thinks he has not had a success, but he will not think so after he becomes accustomed to his audiences. He is in private one of the most cultivated and intelligent of men, and has brought to the practice of his art a scholar's study, a soldier's experience and a gentleman's taste. I say a soldier's experience, for Salvini has been a soldier, and fought for united Italy in 1857 and earlier.

Nilsson is much improved by marriage. Her beauty is softer, she has gained flesh—not to the detriment of that girlish outline, but to the improvement of those somewhat aggressive cheek-bones. She sings better than ever, with rounded voice. Never since the days of Salvi and Steffanoni have we had such opera in New York. The orchestra is better, Maurel is superb, Capoul is still better, and Campanini is very admirable. We miss Jamet very much in Mephisto, but every one else is better than before. The house is not gay—it misses many of its old habitués. Five empty boxes in a row tell of the financial troubles. It was the fashion to laugh at the Wall street men, but they gave gayety and life and movement up town as well as down town. Many of those whose names are recorded on the wrong side of the list were our most generous givers and most amiable hosts. Their misfortunes cause nothing but regrets.

The races at first felt the effects of the panic, but the crowd on Saturday, the 11th of October, was immense. Somebody must get the money that everybody loses; therefore somebody can still afford to go to the races, and the last day was also very full. Two drags set the English example of having the horses taken off and dining on the top of the coach. The notes of a key-bugle from one of them seemed to suggest Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Ben Allen; but whether those young gentlemen were of the party or not I did not hear. With our delicious sky, and particularly this golden autumn, there seems to be no reason why we should not adopt the fashions of Chantilly and Ascot. We are, however, a gregarious people, and the tendency is to gather together under the protection of the grand stand.

Poor Maretzek is always the first to go, and it is understood that his opera is among the great unpaid. Every one is sorry for the poor singers, always excepting Lucca, whose jealousy of Nilsson is so aggressive that she has declared that she would sing her off the boards of the Academy of Music. She is driven like a bad angel out of Paradise, while the starry Nilsson in magnificent triumph sings on superbly to constantly increasing houses at the Academy, and is lunched and fêted to her heart's content.

The Evangelical Alliance has gone, and left behind it nothing but animosities. It was really a vast movement of the Presbyterian Church: Geneva and Calvin were the exclusive proprietors. Episcopalians, Unitarians and Baptists, Methodists and Universalists, were requested to stand aside. The communions were always at some Presbyterian church. Perhaps they thought the Episcopal Church exclusive, as some one said an Englishman carried his pride into his prayers, and said, "O Lord, I do most haughtily beseech thee," and that the Unitarians felt "that any man who had been born in Boston did not see the necessity of being born again."

Every one is extremely well dressed, in spite of the panic. The hair is worn plain and off the brow, let us thank the genius of Fashion, so that every woman has a purer, better look. Nothing destroys the expression of a good woman like breaking over that line which Nature has made about the forehead. Our women have made themselves into wicked Faustinas and vulgar Anonymas long enough with their frizzes and short curls and "banging," as the square-cut straight lock on the forehead is called. Let us see the Madonna brow once more. The high ruff, the sleeve to the elbow, the dress cut to show the figure, all bring-back the days of our great-grandmothers: the opera is filled with Copley's portraits. The bonnets, too, are delightfully large, with long feathers. Every new fashion brings out a new crop of beauties, but I could not see what beauties were brought out by those bold bonnets of last year, which were hung on at the back of the head.

We expect great fun from Dundreary rehearsing Hamlet for private theatricals. Mr. Sothern has been asked to write down Dundreary, that so great an eccentric conception may not be lost to the world. He answers that he has twelve volumes of Dundreary literature! That shows how much industry goes to even an "inconsiderate trifle." This fine actor and most accomplished and agreeable man has been playing in two of the poorest plays ever presented to a New York audience. Nothing but a capital "make up," resembling one of the most fashionable men in town, who is Sothern's particular friend, has given them point—even then only to New Yorkers. Sothern's fondness for practical joking has brought about so many false charges that he is getting very tired of being fathered with every stupid trick which any one chooses to play, and will probably drop that form of wit, so really unworthy of his great genius and true refinement, for the man who could invent Dundreary and who can play Garrick is a genius.

I assisted with four thousand others at the first representation of the Magic Flute at the Grand Opera House, where the late James Fisk's monogram is decently covered up by Gothic shields, hastily improvised after that distinguished actor met the reward of his crimes. I heard lima di Murska for the first time. She is an unpleasant miracle, compelling your reluctant astonishment. Such vocal gymnastics I never heard. The flute and the musical-box are left in the background, but her voice is nasal and disagreeable at first. Lucca's splendid, rich, full organ rang out gloriously by contrast, although her constitutional jealousy showed itself unpleasantly in some parts of the opera where Murska was so deliriously applauded. Lucca, little woman, conquered herself at last, and handed the flowers up to her rival with a pretty grace which was loudly applauded. It is strange that the tact of woman, usually so apprehensive, does not more often see the good effect of generosity.

One effect of the panic, it is to be hoped, will be to make the dinners less magnificently heavy. I am sure every lady in New York who was last winter constrained to sit from seven o'clock until eleven at those monstrously elaborate and expensive dinners which have become so much the fashion, will be glad to dine in a more simple manner, in a shorter time, with less display, and with fewer courses, and fewer excitements. One entertainer last winter introduced live swans and small canaries to enliven his dinner. The swans splashed rather disagreeably.

"Do you know why he had the swans?" said a lady to a gentleman.

"I suppose, he wanted the Ledas of society," said the gentleman.

"Well, yes," said the lady, "but I did not know, although he is as rich as a Jew, that he was a Jupiter."

The faces of the "panicstricken" seem to look brighter, although everybody talks of "shrinkage" and ruin. Meanwhile the beautiful weather keeps the carriages going and Fifth Avenue looking gay. "I shall fail, but my wife need not give up her horses," said a young broker the other day. The old days of commercial morality, when people reduced their style of living because they had failed, seem to have gone out of fashion.

A letter from New York, this Queen of Commerce, is almost necessarily mercantile, as is our conversation.

"How you all talk stocks and money!" said a gentleman just arrived from a ten years' sojourn in Europe. "When I went away you were talking of books, of art, of social ethics, of fine women, of good dinners, of whist and bezique: now you are all talking of longs and shorts, bulls and bears, a fraction of per cent., etc. etc.—all of you, men, women and children."

We have a beautiful collection at the Art Museum in Fourteenth street of jewelry, objets d'art, and a good ceramic display, all clustered round the Di Cesnola sculptures and pottery. This collection, founded on the idea of the South Kensington Museum, makes a most agreeable lounging-place in the Kruger mansion, and is, in the absence of most of the opulent owners of private picture-galleries and the closing of the National Academy, almost our only artistic amusement at present. But the first of December will throw open many hospitable doors, and the new pictures and statues which have been accumulated during the past summer will become in one sense the property of the gazing public.