James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper moved to Paris in 1826, the same year he published¬†The Last of the Mohicans. He ended up staying in Europe until 1833 (though he didn’t stay exclusively in Paris).

He became friends with Lafayette in Paris in the years around 1830.

Cooper was in Paris during the 1832 Cholera epidemic, in which almost twenty thousand people died in the city. He notes:

The manner in which individuals known to us have vanished, as it were, from before our eyes, has been shockingly sudden. Today the report may be that the milkman is gone ; yesterday it was the butcher’s boy ; the day before the poulterer, and presently a new servant appears with a message from a friend, and on inquiring for his predecessor, we learn that he is dead. Ten or fifteen cases of this sort have occurred among those with whom we are in constant and immediate connexion.¬†

On the cost of living in Paris, Cooper says (in A Residence in France):

Your question, as to the comparative expense of living at home and of living in Europe, is too comprehensive to be easily answered, for the prices vary so materially, that it is difficult to make intelligent comparisons. As between Paris and New York, so long as one keeps within the usual limits of American life, or is disposed to dispense with a multitude of little elegancies, the advantage is essentially with the latter. While no money will lodge a family in anything like style, or with suites of rooms, ante-chambers, &c. in New York, for the simple reason, that buildings which possess these elegancies, or indeed with fine apartments at all, have never yet been erected in the country; a family can be better lodged in a genteel part of the town for less money, than it can be lodged, with equal room and equal comforts, in a genteel quarter of Paris; always excepting the inferior distribution of the rooms, and other little advantages, such as the convenience of a porter, &c. all of which are in favour of the latter place.[17] Food of all kinds is much the cheapest with us, bread alone excepted. Wines can be had, as a whole, better and cheaper in New York, if obtained from the wine-merchant, than in any European town we have yet inhabited. Even French wines can be had as cheap as they can be bought here, for the entrance-duty into the country is actually much less than the charges at the gates of Paris. The transportation from Bordeaux or Champagne, or Burgundy, is not, as a whole, essentially less than that to New York, if indeed it be any less. All the minor articles of table luxuries, unless they happen to be of French growth, or French fabrications, are immeasurably cheaper in America than here. Clothes are nominally much cheaper here than with us; but neither the French nor the English use habitually as good clothes as we; nor are the clothes generally as well made. You are not, however, to suppose from this that the Americans are a well-dressed people; on the contrary, we are greatly behind the English in this particular, nor are our men, usually, as well attired as those of Paris. This is a consequence of a want of servants, negligent habits, greediness of gain, which monopolizes so much of our time as to leave little for relaxation, and the high prices of articles, which prevent our making as frequent calls on the tailor, as is the practice here. My clothes have cost me more in Europe, however, than they did at home, for I am compelled to have a greater variety, and to change them oftener.

Our women do not know what high dress is, and consequently they escape many demands on the purse, to which those of Paris are compelled to submit. It would not do, moreover, for a French belle to appear every other night for a whole season in the same robe, and that too looking bedraggled, and as jaded as its pretty wearer. Silks and the commoner articles of female attire are perhaps as cheap in our own shops, as in those of Paris: but when it comes to the multitude of little elegances that ornament the person, the salon, or the boudoir, in this country, they are either wholly unknown in America, or are only to be obtained by paying treble and quadruple the prices at which they may be had here. We absolutely want the caste of shopkeepers as it exists in Europe. By shopkeepers, I mean that humble class of traders who are content with moderate profits, looking forward to little more than a respectable livelihood, and the means of placing their children in situations as comfortable as their own. This is a consequence of the upward tendency of things in a young and vigorous community, in which society has no artificial restrictions, or as few as will at all comport with civilization, and the buoyancy of hope that is its concomitant. The want of the class, notwithstanding, deprives the Americans of many elegancies and some comforts, which would be offered to them at as low rates as they are sold in the countries in which they are made, were it not for the principle of speculative value, which enters into nearly all of our transactions. In Paris the man or woman who sells a duchess an elegant bauble, is half the time content to eat his humble dinner in a small room adjoining his shop, to sleep in an entresol over it, and to limit his profits by his wants. The pressure of society reduces him to this level. With us the thing is reversed, and the consumer is highly taxed, as a necessary result. As we become more familiar with the habits of European life, the demand will gradually reduce the value of these minor articles, and we shall obtain them at the same relative prices, as ordinary silks and shawls are now to be had. At present it must be confessed that our shops make but indifferent figures compared with those of London and Paris. I question if the best of them would pass for more than fourth-rate in London, or for more than third-rate here; though the silk-mercers at home might possibly be an exception to the rule.

The amount of all my experience, on this point, is to convince me, that so long as one is willing to be satisfied with the habits of American life, which include a great abundance, many comforts, and even some few elegancies, that are not known here, such as the general use of carpets, and that of many foreign articles which are excluded from the European markets by the different protective systems, but which, also, do not know a great many embellishments of living that are common all over Europe, he can get along with a good deal less money in New York, than in Paris; certainly, with less, if he mix much with the world.

[17]In New York, the writer has a house with two drawing-rooms, a dining-room, eight bed-rooms, dressing-rooms, four good servants’ rooms, with excellent cellars, cisterns, wells, baths, water-closets, etc. for the same money that he had an apartment in Paris, of one drawing-room, a cabinet, four small and inferior bed-rooms, dining-room, and ante-chamber; the kitchens, offices, cellars, etc. being altogether in favour of the New York residence. In Paris, water was bought in addition, and a tax of forty dollars a year was paid for inhabiting an apartment or a certain amount of rent; a tax that was quite independent of the taxes on the house, doors, and windows, which in both cases were paid by the landlord.