- Historic Sites
Protégé Of Cornwallis, Guest Of Washington
August 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 5
In Baltimore, Twining thanked the other passengers for “the polite attentions they had shown me; for though a total want of reserve amongst themselves almost degenerated sometimes into coarseness, their behaviour towards me was uniformly obliging.” In that city and later in Washington he spent some hours with Thomas Law, a former district governor in the Bengal civil service, who had come to America to invest a quarter of a million dollars in speculative enterprises. Law had put much of his money in the purchase of some 1,600,000 square feet of real estate in the Federal City between the waterfront and the Capitol. At the time of Twining’s visit Law, who was thirty-nine, was honeymooning with nineteen-year-old Llizabeth Parke Custis, granddaughter of Martha Washington. Twining confessed that he had expected “something rather more advanced” in Washington, and he doubted that the city would ever really become the national capital or that Law would recover his investment.
The Laws asked Twining to deliver a miniature portrait of President Washington and gave him a “very flattering “letter of introduction. One of the passengers on the return journey (the son of Governor John Hancock of Massachusetts) learned of the letter and the miniature and told the rest of the company, “upon whom it seemed to make an extraordinary impression, procuring me their congratulations on being honored with such a charge, and particular marks of their attention during the remainder of thejourney.”
In Baltimore again, Twining chanced to run into a distinguished foreign visitor whom he had first met when dining at the Binghams’. He was the Comte de Volney, French scholar and author, one of the first European savants to visit the Middle East beyond Greece. Volney had fled the French Revolution to take asylum in the United States. He was one of many thousands of French exiles and refugees who came in successive waves—royalists, republicans, colonials escaping from uprisings in the West Indian islands. Many came with unrealistic, even absurd, notions of life in the New World, expecting the new American man to be just, rational, and saintlike. When confronted with the realities of American conditions and character, some were disillusioned and bitter. It appeared to me that Monsieur Volney and others who had visited this country were disappointed because they had unreasonably expected too much; and that they were unjust in blaming a state of society that could hardly be otherwise than it was. I thought it not extraordinary, much less a ground of reprehension, that the roads of America should be bad; that the stages should be called waggons and be nearly such; that a republican shopkeeper should receive his customer without taking off his hat or saying more than yes or no; that the English language should be spoken more fluently than correctly. In a country abounding with genius, energy and enterprise; whose infant years have produced a Washington, a Franklin, and a Jefferson; whose improvement in the most important arts of life is advancing with an impulse unexampled in the history of any people; the imperfections inseparable from all human beginnings will gradually disappear, and often, it is not improbable, be replaced by models commanding imitation instead of sarcasm and reproach. …