March 28, 1863.
My Dearest Mother: . . . As to your making yourself out so very old, I can't admit that when I see, for example, Lord Palmerston, who is ever so many years older than you, in his eightieth year in fact, shouldering the whole British Empire, and making a joke of it. Our climate, too, so trying to the young, I believe to be exceedingly beneficial to those more advanced in years. Only do go to Nahant next summer; I am sure that the air and sight of that sea-beaten promontory is to you an elixir of youth.
I have little to say of our goings-on here. Lent, which has succeeded a dancing carnival, has been pretty well filled up every evening with soirees. Baron Sina, the minister of the defunct kingdom of Greece, an enormously wealthy man, has given a series of evening parties, in which there was always music by the Italian operatic artists now performing in Vienna. We had Patti last week, who sang delightfully. She has made quite a furore in this place. We have only heard her at the theater once. She is not at the Imperial Opera, where we have a box, but at a smaller one, and the price is altogether too large, as one is obliged to subscribe for the whole engagement. I hope to get a box, however, for next Saturday night, when she is to play Lucia; and this will be sufficient for us. We dined with a large party three days ago at the same Baron Sina's expressly to meet Patti. We had previously dined with her at Baron Rothschild's. She is a dear little unsophisticated thing, very good, and very pretty and innocent. She considers herself as an American, and sang “Home, Sweet Home,” after dinner the other day, because she said she was sure we should like to hear it, and she sang it most delightfully.
Last Wednesday night we gave a great squash of our own. It was our first attempt in the evening-party line, and we were a little nervous about it. You know you don't send out written invitations and receive answers. You merely send a couple of days before a verbal invitation through a servant, without any chance of a reply. At a quarter before ten there were not a dozen people in our rooms, and we began to feel a little fidgety, although we knew the regular habits of the people. But in ten minutes the house was crowded. It was considered a most successful squeeze. All the Liechtensteins, Esterhazys, Trauttmansdorffs, and the other great families of Vienna, together with nearly the whole diplomatic corps, were present, and seemed to amuse themselves as well as at other parties. Talking the same talk with the same people, drinking the same tea and lemonade, and eating the same ices as at other houses, there is no reason why they should not have amused themselves as well. The young ladies are a power in Vienna. At every “rout,” or evening reception, they always have one of the rooms to themselves, which is called the Comtessen Zimmer (no young lady in this society being supposed to be capable of a lower rank than countess), and where they chatter away with their beaus, and sometimes arrange their quadrilles and waltzes for the balls of a year ahead.
Nothing can be more charming than the manners of the Austrian aristocracy, both male and female. It is perfect nature combined with high breeding. A characteristic of it is the absence of that insolence on the one side and of snobbishness on the other which are to be found in nearly all other societies. This arises from the fact that the only passport to the upper society is pedigree, an unquestionable descent on both sides of the house from nobility of many generations. Without this passport a native might as well think of getting into the moon as getting into society. Therefore the society is very small, not more than three hundred or so, all very much intermarried and related; everybody knows everybody, so that pushing is impossible, and fending off unnecessary. The diplomatic corps move among it, of course, officially. They are civil to us, and invite us to their great parties, and come to our houses. As a spectacle of men and women, and how they play their parts, as Washington Irving used to say, I have no objection to spending my evenings thus for a small portion of the year. It does not interfere with my solid work during the daytime. English society is very interesting, because anybody who has done anything noteworthy may be seen in it. But if an Austrian should be Shakspere, Galileo, Nelson, and Raphael all in one, he couldn't be admitted into good society in Vienna unless he had the sixteen quarterings of nobility which birth alone could give him. Naturally it is not likely to excite one's vanity that one goes as a minister where as an individual he would find every door shut against him. But in the way of duty it is important to cultivate social relations where one is placed, and in these times I am desirous that the American legation should be in a line with other missions. Fortunately, evening entertainments only cost the wax candles and the lemonade.
There is not much in this letter, my dear mother, to interest you. But I thought it better to talk of things around me instead of sending my disquisitions about American affairs, in regard to which I am so unfortunate as to differ from those whom you are in the habit of talking with. Best love to my father and all at home.
Ever your most affectionate son,
J. L. M.
SOURCE: George William Curtis, editor, The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley in Two Volumes, Library Edition, Volume 2, p. 322-5