Tag Archives: Diary of James Gallatin

Betsy Bonaparte: Her Venomous Tongue

According to people who knew her, Betsy Bonaparte had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. One of the amusing aspects of portraying her in the novel was allowing her to rebuke her foes with stinging insults that I would never dream of using myself.

One acquaintance who wrote about her was James Gallatin, son of Albert Gallatin — who was the Secretary of the Treasury and later the Minister to France. When Betsy was in Paris, she dined with the Gallatins often. In his memoirs, James Gallatin recorded the following story. I wasn’t able to use it in the novel, so I will quote it here:

[Madame de Staël] had given a dinner at her house in Geneva, to which Madame Bonaparte was invited. Arriving very late, she delayed serving the dinner for over half an hour. On one side of her was a Mr. Dundas, a great gourmand, who was much put out at having to wait. After the soup had been served he turned to Madame Bonaparte and asked her if she had read the book of Captain Basil Hall on America. She replied in the affirmative. “Well, madame, did you notice that Hall said all Americans are vulgarians?”

“Quite true,” calmly answered Madame Bonaparte, “I am not in the least surprised. If the Americans had been the descendants of the Indians or the Esquimaux there might have been some reason to be astonished, but as they are the direct descendants of the English it is perfectly natural that they should be vulgarians.” After this Mr. Dundas did not open his mouth again and left at the first opportunity.

The Diary of James Gallatin


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