The Life of Albert Gallatin is a biography by Henry Adams. Gallatin was a politician, diplomat, ethnologist and linguist. He served in the Democratic-Republican Party during four decades.
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A LARGE part of the following biography relates to a period of American history as yet unwritten, and is intended to supply historians with material which, except in such a form, would be little likely to see the light. The principal private source from which the author has drawn his information is of course the rich collection of papers which Albert Gallatin left behind him in the hands of his only now surviving son and literary executor, under whose direction these volumes are published. By the liberality and courtesy of Mr. Evarts, Secretary of State, and the active assistance of the admirable organization of the State Department, much material in the government archives at Washington has been made accessible, without which the story must have been little more than a fragment. The interesting series of letters addressed to Joseph H. Nicholson are drawn from the Nicholson MSS., which Judge Alexander B. Hagner kindly placed in the author’s hands at a moment when he had abandoned the hope of tracing them. For other valuable papers and information he is indebted to Miss Sarah N. Randolph, of Edgehill, the representative of Mr. Jefferson, the Nicholases, and the Randolphs. The persevering inquiries of Mr. William Wirt Henry, of Richmond, have resulted in filling some serious gaps in the narrative, and the antiquarian research of Mr. James Veech, of Pittsburg, has been freely put at the author’s service. Finally, he has to recognize the unfailing generosity with which his numerous and troublesome demands have been met by one whose path it is his utmost hope in some slight degree to have smoothed,—his friendly adviser, George Bancroft.
Washington, May, 1879.
Jean De Gallatin, who, at the outbreak of the French revolution, was second in command of the regiment of Châteauvieux in the service of Louis XVI., and a devout believer in the antiquity of his family, maintained that the Gallatins were descended from A. Atilius Callatinus, consul in the years of Rome 494 and 498; in support of this article of faith he fought a duel with the Baron de Pappenheim, on horseback, with sabres, and, as a consequence, ever afterwards carried a sabre-cut across his face. His theory, even if held to be unshaken by the event of this wager of battle, is unlikely ever to become one of the demonstrable facts of genealogy, since a not unimportant gap of about fifteen hundred years elapsed between the last consulship of the Roman Gallatin and the earliest trace of the modern family, found in a receipt signed by the Abbess of Bellacomba for “quindecim libras Viennenses” bequeathed to her convent by “Dominus Fulcherius Gallatini, Miles,” in the year 1258. Faulcher Gallatini left no other trace of his existence; but some sixty years later, in 1319, a certain Guillaume Gallatini, Chevalier, with his son Humbert Gallatini, Damoiseau, figured dimly in legal documents, and Humbert’s grandson, Henri Gallatini, Seigneur de Granges, married Agnes de Lenthenay, whose will, dated 1397, creating her son Jean Gallatini her heir, fixes the local origin of the future Genevan family. Granges was an estate in Bugey, in the province of which Bellay was the capital, then a part of Savoy, but long since absorbed in France, and now embraced in the Département de l’Ain. It lay near the Rhone, some thirty or forty miles below Geneva, and about the same distance above Lyons. This Jean Gallatini, Seigneur de Granges and of many other manors, was an equerry of the Duke of Savoy, and a man of importance in his neighborhood. He too had a son Jean, who was also an equerry of the Duke of Savoy, and a man of gravity, conscientious in his opinions and serious in his acts. Not only Duke Philibert but even Pope Leo X. held him in esteem; the Duke made him his secretary with the title of Vice Comes, and the Pope clothed him with the dignity of Apostolic Judge, with the power to create one hundred and fifty notaries and public judges, and with the further somewhat invidious privilege of legitimatizing an equal number of bastards. Notwithstanding this mark of apostolic favor conferred on the “venerabilis vir dominus Johannes Gallatinus, civis Gebennensis” by a formal act dated at Salerno in 1522, Jean Gallatin was not an obedient son of the Church. For reasons no longer to be ascertained, he had in 1510 quitted his seigniories and his services in Savoy and caused himself to be enrolled as a citizen of Geneva. The significance of this act rests in the fact that the moment he chose for the change was that which immediately preceded the great revolution in Genevan history when the city tore itself away not only from Savoy but from the Church. Jean Gallatin was a man of too much consequence not to be welcomed at Geneva. He linked his fortunes with hers, became a member of the Council, and joined in the decree which, in 1535, deposed the Prince Bishop and abrogated the power of the Pope. He died in 1536, the year Calvin came to Geneva, and the Gallatins were so far among the close allies of the great reformer that a considerable number of his letters to them were still preserved by the family until stolen or destroyed by some of the wilder reformers who accompanied the revolutionary armies of France in 1794.
After the elevation of Geneva to the rank of a sovereign republic in 1535, the history of the Gallatins is the history of the city. The family, if not the first in the state, was second to none. Government was aristocratic in this small republic, and of the eleven families into whose hands it fell at the time of the Reformation, the Gallatins furnished syndics and counsellors, with that regularity and frequency which characterized the mode of selection, in a more liberal measure than any of the other ten. Five Gallatins held the position of first syndic, and as such were the chief magistrates of the republic. Many were in the Church; some were professors and rectors of the University. They counted at least one political martyr among their number,—a Gallatin who, charged with the crime of being head of a party which aimed at popular reforms in the constitution, was seized and imprisoned in 1698, and died in 1719, after twenty-one years of close confinement. They overflowed into foreign countries. Pierre, the elder son of Jean, was the source of four distinct branches of the family, which spread and multiplied in every direction, although of them all no male representative now exists except among the descendants of Albert Gallatin. One was in the last century a celebrated physician in Paris, chief of the hospital established by Mme. Necker; another was Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Duke of Brunswick, who, when mortally wounded at the battle of Jena, in 1806, commended his minister to the King of Würtemberg as his best and dearest friend. The King respected this dying injunction, and Count Gallatin, in 1819, was, as will be seen, the Würtemberg minister at Paris.
That the Gallatins did not restrict their activity to civil life is a matter of course. There were few great battle-fields in Europe where some of them had not fought, and not very many where some of them had not fallen. Voltaire testifies to this fact in the following letter to Count d’Argental, which contains a half-serious, half-satirical account of their military career:
VOLTAIRE TO THE COUNT D’ARGENTAL.
9 février, 1761.
Voici la plus belle occasion, mon cher ange, d’exercer votre ministère céleste. Il s’agit du meilleur office que je puisse recevoir de vos bontés.
Je vous conjure, mon cher et respectable ami, d’employer tout votre crédit auprès de M. le Duc de Choiseul; auprès de ses amis; s’il le faut, auprès de sa maîtresse, &c., &c. Et pourquoi osé-je vous demander tant d’appui, tant de zèle, tant de vivacité, et surtout un prompt succès? Pour le bien du service, mon cher ange; pour battre le Duc de Brunsvick. M. Galatin, officier aux gardes suisses, qui vous présentera ma très-humble requête, est de la plus ancienne famille de Genève; ils se font tuer pour nous de père en fils depuis Henri Quatre. L’oncle de celui-ci a été tué devant Ostende; son frère l’a été à la malheureuse et abominable journée de Rosbach, à ce que je crois; journée où les régiments suisses firent seuls leur devoir. Si ce n’est pas à Rosbach, c’est ailleurs; le fait est qu’il a été tué; celui-ci a été blessé. Il sert depuis dix ans; il a été aide-major; il veut l’être. Il faut des aides-major qui parlent bien allemand, qui soient actifs, intelligens; il est tout cela. Enfin vous saurez de lui précisément ce qu’il lui faut; c’est en général la permission d’aller vite chercher la mort à votre service. Faites-lui cette grâce, et qu’il ne soit point tué, car il est fort aimable et il est neveu de cette Mme. Calendrin que vous avez vue étant enfant. Mme. sa mère est bien aussi aimable que Mme. Calendrin.
One Gallatin fell in 1602 at the Escalade, famous in Genevan history; another at the siege of Ostend, in 1745; another at the battle of Marburg, in 1760; another, the ninth of his name who had served in the Swiss regiment of Aubonne, fell in 1788, acting as a volunteer at the siege of Octzakow; still another, in 1797, at the passage of the Rhine. One commanded a battalion under Rochambeau at the siege of Yorktown. But while these scattered members of the family were serving with credit and success half the princes of Christendom, the main stock was always Genevan to the core and pre-eminently distinguished in civil life.
In any other European country a family like this would have had a feudal organization, a recognized head, great entailed estates, and all the titles of duke, marquis, count, and peer which royal favor could confer or political and social influence could command. Geneva stood by herself. Aristocratic as her government was, it was still republican, and the parade of rank or wealth was not one of its chief characteristics. All the honors and dignities which the republic could give were bestowed on the Gallatin family with a prodigal hand; but its members had no hereditary title other than the quaint prefix of Noble, and the right to the further prefix of de, which they rarely used; they had no great family estate passing by the law of primogeniture, no family organization centring in and dependent on a recognized chief. Integrity, energy, courage, and intelligence were for the most part the only family estates of this aristocracy, and these were wealth enough to make of the little city of Geneva the most intelligent and perhaps the purest society in Europe. The austere morality and the masculine logic of Calvin were here at home, and there was neither a great court near by, nor great sources of wealth, to counteract or corrupt the tendencies of Calvin’s teachings. In the middle of the eighteenth century, when Gallatins swarmed in every position of dignity or usefulness in their native state and in every service abroad, it does not appear that any one of them ever attained very great wealth, or asserted a claim of superior dignity over his cousins of the name. Yet the name, although the strongest, was not their only common tie. A certain François Gallatin, who died in 1699, left by will a portion of his estate in trust, its income to be expended for the aid or relief of members of the family. This trust, known as the Bourse Gallatin, honestly and efficiently administered, proved itself to be all that its founder could ever have desired.
One of the four branches of this extensive family was represented in the middle of the eighteenth century by Abraham Gallatin, who lived on his estate at Pregny, one of the most beautiful spots on the west shore of the lake, near Geneva, and who is therefore known as Abraham Gallatin of Pregny. His wife, whom he had married in 1732, was Susanne Vaudenet, commonly addressed as Mme. Gallatin-Vaudenet. They were, if not positively wealthy, at least sufficiently so to maintain their position among the best of Genevese society, and Mme. Gallatin appears to have been a woman of more than ordinary character, intelligence, and ambition. The world knows almost every detail about the society of Geneva at that time; for, apart from a very distinguished circle of native Genevans, it was the society in which Voltaire lived, and to which the attention of much that was most cultivated in Europe was for that reason, if for no other, directed. Voltaire was a near neighbor of the Gallatins at Pregny. Notes and messages were constantly passing between the two houses. Dozens of these little billets in Voltaire’s hand are still preserved. Some are written on the back of ordinary playing-cards. The deuce of clubs says:
“Nous sommes aux ordres de Mme. Galatin. Nous tâcherons d’employer ferblantier. Parlement Paris refuse tout édit et veut que le roi demande pardon à Parlement Bezançon. Anglais ont voulu rebombarder Hâvre. N’ont réussi. Carosse à une heure ½. Respects.”
There is no date; but this is not necessary, for the contents seem to fix the date for the year 1756. A note endorsed “Des Délices” is in the same tone:
“Lorsque V. se présente chez sa voisine, il n’a d’autre affaire, d’autre but, que de lui faire sa cour. Nous attendons pour faire des répétitions le retour du Tyran qui a mal à la poitrine. S’il y a quelques nouvelles de Berlin, Mr. Gallatin est supplié d’en faire part. Mille respects.”
Another, of the year 1759, is on business:
“Comment se porte notre malade, notre chère voisine, notre chère fille? J’ai été aux vignes, madame. Les guèpes mangent tout, et ce qu’elles ne mangent point est sec. Le vigneron de Mme. du Tremblay est venu me faire ses représentations. Mes tonneaux ne sont pas reliés, a-t-il dit; différez vendange. Relie tes tonneaux, ai-je dit. Vos raisins ne sont pas mûrs, a-t-il dit. Va les voir, ai-je dit. Il y a été; il a vu. Vendangez au plus vite, a-t-il dit. Qu’ordonnez-vous, madame, au voisin V.?”
Another of the same year introduces Mme. Gallatin’s figs, of which she seems to have been proud:
“Vos figues, madame, sont un présent d’autant plus beau que nous pouvons dire comme l’autre: car ce n’était pas le temps des figues. Nous n’en avons point aux Délices, mais nous aurons un théâtre à Tourney. Et nous partons dans une heure pour venir vous voir. Recevez vous et toute votre famille, madame, les tendres respects de V.”
“Vous me donnez plus de figues, madame, qu’il n’y en a dans le pays de papimanie; et moi, madame, je suis comme le figuier de l’Évangile, sec et maudit. Ce n’est pas comme acteur, c’est comme très-attaché à toute votre famille que je m’intéresse bien vivement à la santé de Mme. Galatin-Rolaz. Nous répétons mardi en habits pontificaux. Ceux qui ont des billets viendront s’ils veulent. Je suis à vous, madame, pour ma vie. V.”
Then follows a brief note dated “Ferney, 18e 7re,” 1761:
“Nous comptions revenir tous souper à Ferney après la comédie. Mr. le Duc de Villars nous retint; notre carosse se rompit; nous essuyâmes tous les contretemps possibles; la vie en est semée; mais le plus grand de tous est de n’avoir pas eu l’honneur de souper avec vous.”
One of the friends for whom Mme. Gallatin-Vaudenet seems to have felt the strongest attachment, and with whom she corresponded, was the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, a personage not favorably known in American history. The Landgrave, in 1776, sent Mme. Gallatin his portrait, and Mme. Gallatin persuaded Voltaire to write for her a copy of verses addressed to the Landgrave, in recognition of this honor. Here they are from the original draft:
The success of Mme. Gallatin in the matter of figs led Voltaire to beg of her some trees; but his fortune was not so good as hers.
“10e Auguste, 1768, à Ferney. Vous êtes bénie de Dieu, madame. Il y a six ans que je plante des figuiers, et pas un ne réussit. Ce serait bien là le cas de sécher mes figuiers. Mais si j’avais des miracles à faire, ce ne serait pas celui-là. Je me borne à vous remercier, madame. Je crois qu’il n’y a que les vieux figuiers qui donnent. La vieillesse est encore bonne à quelque chose. J’ai comme vous des chevaux de trente ans; c’est ce qui fait que je les aime; il n’y a rien de tel que les vieux amis. Les jeunes pourtant ne sont pas à mépriser, mesdames. V.”
One more letter by Voltaire is all that can find room here. The Landgrave seems to have sent by Mme. Gallatin some asparagus seed to Voltaire, which he acknowledged in these words:
VOLTAIRE TO THE LANDGRAVE OF HESSE.
Le 15e septembre, 1772, de Ferney.
Monseigneur,—Mme. Gallatin m’a fait voir la lettre où votre Altesse Sérénissime montre toute sa sagesse, sa bonté et son goût en parlant d’un jeune homme dont la raison est un peu égarée. Je vois que dans cette lettre elle m’accorde un bienfait très-signalé, qu’on doit rarement attendre des princes et même des médecins. Elle me donne un brevet de trois ans de vie, car il faut trois ans pour faire venir ces belles asperges dont vous me gratifiez. Agréez, monseigneur, mes très-humbles remerciements. J’ose espérer de vous les renouveler dans trois années; car enfin il faut bien que je me nourrisse d’espérance avant que de l’être de vos asperges. Que ne puis-je être en état de venir vous demander la permission de manger celles de vos jardins! La belle révolution de Suède opérée avec tant de fermeté et de prudence par le roi votre parent, donne envie de vivre. Ce prince est comme vous, il se fait aimer de ses sujets. C’est assurément de toutes les ambitions la plus belle. Tout le reste a je ne sais quoi de chimérique et souvent de très-funeste. Je souhaite à Votre Altesse Sérénissime de longues années. C’est le seul souhait que je puisse faire; vous avez tout le reste. Je suis, avec le plus profond respect, monseigneur, de Votre Altesse Sérénissime le très-humble et très-obéissant serviteur,
“Le vieux malade de Ferney, “Voltaire.”
The correspondence of his Most Serene Highness, who made himself thus loved by his subjects, cannot be said to sparkle like that of Voltaire; yet, although the Landgrave’s French was little better than his principles, one of his letters to Mme. Gallatin may find a place here. The single line in regard to his troops returning from America gives it a certain degree of point which only Americans or Hessians are likely to appreciate at its full value.
THE LANDGRAVE OF HESSE TO ME. GALLATIN-VAUDENET.
Madame!—Je vous accuse avec un plaisir infini la lettre que vous avez bien voulu m’écrire le 27 mars dernier, et je vous fais bien mes parfaits remercîmens de la part que vous continuez de prendre à ma santé, dont je suis, on ne peut pas plus, content. La vôtre m’intéresse trop pour ne pas souhaiter qu’elle soit également telle que vous la désirez. Puisse la belle saison qui vient de succéder enfin au tems rude qu’il a fait, la raffermir pour bien des années, et puissiez-vous jouir de tout le contentement que mes vœux empressés vous destinent.
Quoique la lettre dont vous avez chargé Mr. Cramer m’ait été rendue, j’ai bien du regret d’avoir été privé du plaisir de faire sa connaissance personnelle, puisqu’il ne s’est pas arrêté à Cassel, et n’a fait que passer. Le témoignage favorable que vous lui donnez ne peut que prévenir en sa faveur.
Au reste je suis sur le point d’entreprendre un petit voïage que j’ai médité depuis longtems pour changer d’air. Je serais déjà en route, sans mes Trouppes revenus de l’Amérique, que je suis bien aise de revoir avant mon départ, et dont les derniers régimens seront rendus à Cassel vers la fin du mois.
Continuez-moi en attendant votre cher souvenir, et, en faisant bien mes complimens à Mr. et à Mlle. Gallatin, persuadez-vous que rien n’est au-dessus des sentimens vrais et invariables avec lesquels je ne finirai d’être, madame, votre très-humble et très-obéissant serviteur.
Frédéric L. d’Hesse.
Cassel, le 25 mai, 1784.
Mme. Gallatin-Vaudenet had three children,—one son and two daughters. The son, who was named Jean Gallatin, was born in 1733, and in 1755 married Sophie Albertine Rolaz du Rosey of Rolle,—the Mme. Gallatin-Rolaz already mentioned in one of Voltaire’s notes. They had two children,—a boy, born on the 29th of January, 1761, in the city of Geneva, and baptized on the following 7th of February by the name of Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin; and a girl about five years older.
Abraham Gallatin, the grandfather, was a merchant in partnership with his son Jean. Jean died, however, in the summer of 1765, and his wife, Mme. Gallatin-Rolaz, who had talent and great energy, undertook to carry on his share of the business in her own separate name. She died in March, 1770. The daughter had been sent to Montpellier for her health, which she never recovered, and died a few years after, in 1777. The boy, Albert, was left an orphan when nine years old, with a large circle of blood-relations; the nearest of whom were his grandfather Abraham and his grandmother the friend of Voltaire and of Frederic of Hesse. The child would naturally have been taken to Pregny and brought up by his grandparents, but a different arrangement had been made during the lifetime of his mother, and was continued after her death. Mme. Gallatin-Rolaz had a most intimate friend, a distant relation of her husband, Catherine Pictet by name, unmarried, and at this time about forty years old. When Jean Gallatin died, in 1765, Mlle. Pictet, seeing the widow overwhelmed with the care of her invalid daughter and with the charge of her husband’s business, insisted on taking the boy Albert under her own care, and accordingly, on the 8th of January, 1766, Albert, then five years old, went to live with her, and from that time became in a manner her child.
Besides his grandfather Abraham Gallatin at Pregny, and his other paternal relations, Albert had a large family connection on the mother’s side, and more especially an uncle, Alphonse Rolaz of Rolle, kind-hearted, generous, and popular. Both on the father’s and the mother’s side Albert had a right to expect a sufficient fortune. His interests during his minority were well cared for, and nothing can show better the characteristic economy and carefulness of Genevan society than the mode of the boy’s education. For seven years, till January, 1773, he lived with Mlle. Pictet, and his expenses did not exceed eighty dollars a year. Then he went to boarding-school, and in August, 1775, to the college or academy, where he graduated in May, 1779. During all this period his expenses slightly exceeded two hundred dollars a year. The Bourse Gallatin advanced a comparatively large sum for his education and for the expenses of his sister’s illness. “No necessary expense was spared for my education,” is his memorandum on the back of some old accounts of his guardian; “but such was the frugality observed in other respects, and the good care taken of my property, that in 1786, when I came of age, all the debts had been paid excepting two thousand four hundred francs lent by an unknown person through Mr. Cramer, who died in 1778, and with him the secret name of that friend, who never made himself known or could be guessed.” In such an atmosphere one might suppose that economists and financiers must grow without the need of education. Yet the fact seems to have been otherwise, and in Albert Gallatin’s closest family connection, both his grandfather Abraham and his uncle Alphonse Rolaz ultimately died insolvent, and instead of inheriting a fortune from them he was left to pay their debts.
Of the nature of Albert’s training the best idea can be got from his own account of the Academy of Geneva, contained in a letter written in 1847 and published among his works. At that time the academy represented all there was of education in the little republic, and its influence was felt in every thought and act of the citizens. “In its organization and general outlines the academy had not, when I left Geneva in 1780, been materially altered from the original institutions of its founder. Whatever may have been his defects and erroneous views, Calvin had at all events the learning of his age, and, however objectionable some of his religious doctrines, he was a sincere and zealous friend of knowledge and of its wide diffusion among the people. Of this he laid the foundation by making the whole education almost altogether gratuitous, from the A B C to the time when the student had completed his theological or legal studies. But there was nothing remarkable or new in the organization or forms of the schools. These were on the same plan as colleges were then, and generally continue to be in the old seminaries of learning.... In the first place, besides the academy proper, there was a preparatory department intimately connected with it and under its control. This in Geneva was called ‘the College,’ and consisted of nine classes, ... the three lower of which, for reading, writing, and spelling, were not sufficient for the wants of the people, and had several succursales or substitutes in various parts of the city. But for that which was taught in the six upper classes (or in the academy), there were no other public schools but the college and the academy. In these six classes nothing whatever was taught but Latin and Greek,—Latin thoroughly, Greek much neglected. Professor de Saussure used his best endeavors about 1776, when rector of the academy, to improve the system of education in the college by adding some elementary instruction in history, geography, and natural science, but could not succeed, a great majority of his colleagues opposing him....
“When not aided and stimulated by enlightened parents or friends, the students from the time when they entered the academy (on an average when about or rather more than fifteen years old) were left almost to themselves, and studied more or less as they pleased. But almost all had previously passed through at least the upper classes of the college. I was the only one of my class and of the two immediately preceding and following me who had been principally educated at home and had passed only through the first or upper class of the college.... In the years 1775-1779 the average number of the scholars in the four upper classes of the college was about one hundred, and that of the students in the four first years of the academical course, viz., the auditoires of belles-lettres and philosophy, about fifty, of whom not more than one or two had not passed through at least the three or four upper classes of the college. Very few mechanics, even the watchmakers, so numerous in Geneva and noted for their superior intelligence and knowledge, went beyond the fifth and sixth classes, which included about one hundred and twenty scholars. As to the lower or primary classes or schools, it would have been difficult to find a citizen intra muros who could not read and write. The peasantry or cultivators of the soil in the small Genevese territory were, indeed, far more intelligent than their Catholic neighbors, but still, as in the other continental parts of Europe, a distinct and inferior class, with some religious instruction, but speaking patois (the great obstacle to the diffusion of knowledge), and almost universally not knowing how to read or to write. The population intra muros was about 24,000 (in 1535, at the epoch of the Reformation and independence, about 13,000), of whom nearly one third not naturalized, chiefly Germans or Swiss, exercising what were considered as lower trades, tailors, shoemakers, &c., and including almost all the menial servants. I never knew or heard of a male citizen or native of Geneva serving as such. The number of citizens above twenty-five years of age, and having a right to vote, amounted, exclusively of those residing abroad, to 2000....
“There was in Geneva neither nobility nor any hereditary privilege but that of citizenship; and the body of citizens assembled in Council General had preserved the power of laying taxes, enacting laws, and ratifying treaties. But they could originate nothing, and a species of artificial aristocracy, composed of the old families which happened to be at the head of affairs when independence was declared, and skilfully strengthened by the successive adoption of the most distinguished citizens and emigrants, had succeeded in engrossing the public employments and concentrating the real power in two self-elected councils of twenty-five and two hundred members respectively. But that power rested on a most frail foundation, since in a state which consists of a single city the majority of the inhabitants may in twenty-four hours overset the government. In order to preserve it, a moral, intellectual superiority was absolutely necessary. This could not be otherwise attained than by superior knowledge and education, and the consequence was that it became disgraceful for any young man of decent parentage to be an idler. All were bound to exercise their faculties to the utmost; and although there are always some incapable, yet the number is small of those who, if they persevere, may not by labor become, in some one branch, well-informed men. Nor was that love and habit of learning long confined to that self-created aristocracy. A salutary competition in that respect took place between the two political parties, which had a most happy effect on the general diffusion of knowledge.
“During the sixteenth and the greater part of the seventeenth century the Genevese were the counterpart of the Puritans of Old and of the Pilgrims of New England,—the same doctrines, the same simplicity in the external forms of worship, the same austerity of morals and severity of manners, the same attention to schools and seminaries of learning, the same virtues, and the same defects,—exclusiveness and intolerance, equally banishing all those who differed on any point from the established creed, putting witches to death, &c., &c. And with the progress of knowledge both about at the same time became tolerant and liberal. But here the similitude ends. To the Pilgrims of New England, in common with the other English colonists, the most vast field of enterprise was opened which ever offered itself to civilized man. Their mission was to conquer the wilderness, to multiply indefinitely, to settle and inhabit a whole continent, and to carry their institutions and civilization from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. With what energy and perseverance this has been performed we all know. But to those pursuits all the national energies were directed. Learning was not neglected; but its higher branches were a secondary object, and science was cultivated almost exclusively for practical purposes, and only as far as was requisite for supplying the community with the necessary number of clergymen and members of the other liberal professions. The situation of Geneva was precisely the reverse of this. Confined to a single city and without territory, its inhabitants did all that their position rendered practicable. They created the manufacture of watches, which gave employment to near a fourth part of the population, and carried on commerce to the fullest extent of which their geographical situation was susceptible. But the field of active enterprise was still the narrowest possible. To all those who were ambitious of renown, fame, consideration, scientific pursuits were the only road that could lead to distinction, and to these, or other literary branches, all those who had talent and energy devoted themselves.
“All could not be equally successful; few only could attain a distinguished eminence; but, as I have already observed, a far greater number of well educated and informed men were found in that small spot than in almost every other town of Europe which was not the metropolis of an extensive country. This had a most favorable influence on the tone of society, which was not light, frivolous, or insipid, but generally serious and instructive. I was surrounded by that influence from my earliest days, and, as far as I am concerned, derived more benefit from that source than from my attendance on academical lectures. A more general fact deserves notice. At all times, and within my knowledge in the years 1770-1780, a great many distinguished foreigners came to Geneva to finish their education, among whom were nobles and princes from Germany and other northern countries; there were also not a few lords and gentlemen from England; even the Duke of Cambridge, after he had completed his studies at Göttingen. Besides these there were some from America, amongst whom I may count before the American Revolution those South Carolinians, Mr. Kinloch, William Smith,—afterwards a distinguished member of Congress and minister to Portugal,—and Colonel Laurens, one of the last who fell in the war of independence. And when I departed from Geneva I left there, besides the two young Penns, proprietors of Pennsylvania, Franklin Bache, grandson of Dr. Franklin, —— Johannot, grandson of Dr. Cooper, of Boston, who died young. Now, amongst all those foreigners I never knew or heard of a single one who attended academical lectures. It was the Genevese society which they cultivated, aided by private teachers in every branch, with whom Geneva was abundantly supplied.”
At the academy Albert Gallatin associated of course with all the young Genevese of his day. As most of these had no permanent influence on him, and maintained no permanent relations with him, it is needless to speak of them further. There were but two whose names will recur frequently hereafter. Neither of them was equal to Gallatin in abilities or social advantages, but in politics and philosophy all were evidently of one mind, and the fortunes of all were linked together. The name of one was Henri Serre, that of the other was Jean Badollet.
What kind of men they were will appear in the course of their adventures. A fourth, whose name is better known than those just mentioned, seems to have been a close friend of the other three, but differed from them by not coming to America. He was Étienne Dumont, afterwards the friend and interpreter of Bentham.
However enlightened the society of Pregny may have been under the influence of Voltaire and Frederic of Hesse, it is not to be supposed that Mme. Gallatin-Vaudenet or any other members of the Gallatin family were by tastes and interests likely to lean towards levelling principles in politics. Of all people in Geneva they were perhaps most interested in maintaining the old Genevese régime. The Gallatins were for the most part firm believers in aristocracy, and Albert certainly never found encouragement for liberal opinions in his own family, unless they may have crept in through the pathway of Voltairean philosophy as mere theory, the ultimate results of which were not foreseen. This makes more remarkable the fact that young Gallatin, who was himself a clear-headed, sober-minded, practical Genevan, should, by some bond of sympathy which can hardly have been anything more than the intellectual movement of his time, have affiliated with a knot of young men who, if not quite followers of Rousseau, were still essentially visionaries. They were dissatisfied with the order of things in Geneva. They believed in human nature, and believed that human nature when free from social trammels would display nobler qualities and achieve vaster results, not merely in the physical but also in the moral world. The American Revolutionary war was going on, and the American Declaration of Independence embodied, perhaps helped to originate, some of their thoughts.
With minds in this process of youthful fermentation, they finished their academical studies and came out into the world. Albert was graduated in May, 1779, first of his class in mathematics, natural philosophy, and Latin translation. Before this time, in April, 1778, he had returned to Mlle. Pictet, and his principal occupation for the year after graduating was as tutor to her nephew, Isaac Pictet. Both Gallatin and Badollet were students of English, and the instruction given to Isaac Pictet seems to have been partly in English. Of course the serious question before him was that of choosing a profession, and this question was one in which his family were interested; in which, indeed, their advice would naturally carry decisive weight. The young man was much at Pregny with his grandparents, where, daring his childhood, he often visited Voltaire at Ferney. His grandmother had her own views as to his career. She wished him to take a commission of lieutenant-colonel in the military service of her friend the Landgrave of Hesse, with whom her interest was sufficient to insure for him a favorable reception and a promising future. At that moment, it is true, the military prospects of the Landgrave’s troops in the Jerseys were not peculiarly flattering, and the service can hardly have been popular with such as might remember the dying words of Colonel Donop at Red Bank; but after all the opportunity was a sure one, suitable for a gentleman of ancient family, according to the ideas of the time, and flattering to the pride of Mme. Gallatin-Vaudenet. She spoke to her grandson on the subject, urging her advice with all the weight she could give it. He replied, abruptly, that he would never serve a tyrant. The reply was hardly respectful, considering the friendship which he knew to exist between his grandmother and the Landgrave, and it is not altogether surprising that it should have provoked an outbreak of temper on her part which took the shape of a box on the ear: “she gave me a cuff,” were Mr. Gallatin’s own words in telling the story to his daughter many years afterwards. This “cuff” had no small weight in determining the young man’s course of action.
Yet it would be unfair to infer from this box on the ear that the family attempted to exercise any unreasonable control over Albert’s movements. If any one in the transaction showed himself unreasonable, it was the young man, not his relations. They were ready to aid him to the full extent of their powers in any respectable line of life which might please his fancy. They would probably have preferred that he should choose a mercantile rather than a military career. They would have permitted, and perhaps encouraged, his travelling for a few years to fit himself for that object. It was no fault of theirs that he suddenly took the whole question into his own hands, and, after making silent preparations and carrying with him such resources as he could then raise, on the 1st April, 1780, in company with his friend Serre, secretly and in defiance of his guardian and relations, bade a long farewell to Geneva and turned his back on the past.
The act was not a wise one. That future which the young Gallatin grasped so eagerly with outstretched arms had little in it that even to an ardent imagination at nineteen could compensate for the wanton sacrifice it involved. There is no reason to suppose that Albert Gallatin’s career was more brilliant or more successful in America than with the same efforts and with equal sacrifices it might have been in Europe; for his character and abilities must have insured pre-eminence in whatever path he chose. Both the act of emigration and the manner of carrying it out were inconsiderate and unreasonable, as is clear from the arguments by which he excused them at the time. He wished to improve his fortune, he said, and to do this he was going, without capital, as his family pointed out, to a land already ruined by a long and still raging civil war, without a government and without trade. This was his ostensible reason; and his private one was no better,—that “daily dependence” on others, and particularly on Mlle. Pictet and his grandmother, which galled his pride. That he was discontented with Geneva and the Genevan political system was true; but to emigrate was not the way to mend it, and even in emigrating he did not pretend that his object in seeking America was to throw himself into the Revolutionary struggle. He felt a strong sympathy for the Americans and for the political liberty which was the motive of their contest; but this sympathy was rather a matter of reason than of passion. He always took care to correct the idea, afterwards very commonly received, that he had run away from his family and friends in order to fight the British. So far as his political theories were concerned, aversion to Geneva had more to do with his action than any enthusiasm for war, and in the list of personal motives discontent with his dependent position at home had more influence over him than the desire for wealth. At this time, and long afterwards, he was proud and shy. His behavior for many years was controlled by these feelings, which only experience and success at last softened and overcame.
The manner of departure was justified by him on the ground that he feared forcible restraint should he attempt to act openly. The excuse was a weak one, and the weaker if a positive prohibition were really to be feared, which was probably not the case. No one had the power to restrain young Gallatin very long. He might have depended with confidence on having his own way had he chosen to insist. But the spirit of liberty at this time was rough in its methods. Albert Gallatin’s contemporaries and friends were the men who carried the French Revolution through its many wild phases, and at nineteen men are governed by feeling rather than by common sense, even when they do not belong to a generation which sets the world in flames.
However severe the judgment of his act may be, there was nothing morally wrong in it; nothing which he had not a right to do if he chose. In judging it, too, the reader is affected by the fact that none of his letters in his own defence have been preserved, while all those addressed to him are still among his papers. These, too, are extremely creditable to his family, and show strong affection absolutely free from affectation, and the soundest good sense without a trace of narrowness. Among them all, one only can be given here. It is from Albert’s guardian, a distant relative in an elder branch of the family.
P. M. GALLATIN TO ALBERT GALLATIN.
Genève, 21e mai, 1780.
Monsieur,—Avant que de vous écrire j’ai voulu m’assurer d’une manière plus précise que je n’avais pu le faire les premiers jours de votre départ, et par vous-même, quels étaient vos projets, le but et le motif de votre voyage, les causes qui avaient fait naître une pareille idée dans votre esprit, vos sentimens passés et présens et vos désirs pour l’avenir. Il m’était difficile à tous ces égards de comprendre comment vous ne vous étiez ouvert ni à Mlle. Pictet qui, vous le savez bien, ne vous avait jamais aimé pour elle-même mais pour vous seul, qui n’a jamais voulu que votre plus grand bien, qui a pris de vous non-seulement les soins que vous auriez pu attendre de madame votre mère avec laquelle elle s’était individualisée à votre égard, mais même ceux que peu d’enfants éprouvent de leurs pères; ni à moi, qui jamais ne vous ai refusé quoi que ce soit, parce qu’en effet les demandes en petit nombre que vous m’aviez faites jusqu’à présent m’ont toujours paru sages et raisonnables; ni à aucun de vos parens, de qui vous n’avez reçu que des douceurs dans tout le cours de votre vie. C’est, je vous l’avouerai, ce défaut de confiance, qui continue encore chez vous à notre égard, qui m’afflige le plus vivement, voyant surtout qu’il tourne contre vous au lieu de servir à votre avantage. Croyez-vous donc, monsieur, à votre âge, calculer mieux que les personnes qui ont quelque expérience? ou nous supposiez-vous assez déraisonnables pour nous refuser à entrer dans des plans qui auraient pu un jour vous conduire au bonheur que vous cherchez? Il est vrai qu’il n’est point de bonheur parfait en ce monde; mais pensez-vous que nous aurions été sourds ou insensibles à vos motifs les plus secrets? vous défiez-vous de notre discrétion pour nous refuser la confidence qui nous était due du développement successif de vos sentimens? est-ce la contrainte pour le choix d’un état, sont-ce les lois que nous vous avons imposées pour quelque objet que ce soit, qui nous ont enlevé votre confiance? au contraire, ne vous avons-nous pas déclaré en diverses occasions que nous vous laissions cette liberté? devions-nous et pouvions-nous nous attendre que vous l’interpréteriez en une indépendance absolue qui ne reconnaîtrait pas non-seulement l’autorité légitime mais la déférence naturelle et le besoin de direction et de conseils? Que vos motifs fussent bons ou mauvais pour prendre le parti que vous avez pris, je n’entre plus là-dedans. La démarche est faite et surtout la résolution est prise; je ne chercherai point à vous en détourner; si vous ne réussissez pas, vous aurez été trompé par de faux raisonnemens, comme vous le dites, et voilà tout. Et quand ce projet nous aurait été communiqué avant son exécution, quand nous vous l’aurions représenté aussi extravagant qu’il nous le paraît, quand nous vous aurions détaillé les inconvéniens, si vous y aviez persisté, nous aurions dit Amen; mais alors du moins nous aurions pu d’avance en prévenir un grand nombre, diminuer la grandeur de quelques autres, vous aider avec plus de fruit pour le projet même, et avec moins d’inconvéniens en cas de non-réussite; nous aurions préparé les voies autant qu’il nous aurait été possible pour l’exécution et nous vous aurions facilité le retour en fondant votre espérance d’un sort heureux si jamais vous étiez forcé de revenir ici. Monsieur du Rosey votre oncle vous avait fait entrevoir une situation aisée pour l’avenir; mais si une honnête médiocrité n’eut pas satisfait vos désirs ambitieux, ses offres généreuses ne devaient-elles pas lui ouvrir votre cœur et vous déterminer à lui confier vos projets que (s’il n’eut pas pu les anéantir par le raisonnement et la persuasion) il eut sans doute favorisés? Un ordre positif! Avec quels yeux nous avez-vous donc vos? Aujourd’hui croyez-vous cette défiance injuste que vous nous avez montrée et par votre conduite et par vos lettres, bien propre à le disposer en votre faveur? Soyez certain cependant, monsieur, que je vous aiderai autant que votre fortune pourra le permettre sans déranger vos capitaux, dont je dois vous rendre compte un jour et que vous me saurez peut-être gré de vous avoir conservés; en attendant je suis obligé par un serment solennel prêté en justice que j’observerai inviolablement jusques à ce que j’en sois juridiquement dégagé; et vous refuser vos capitaux pour un projet dont je ne saurais voir la fin, n’est ni infamie ni dureté, mais prudence et sagesse.
Après ces observations, dont j’ai cru que vous aviez besoin, permettez-moi quelques réflexions sur votre projet. D’abord j’ai lieu de croire que la somme qui vous reste, ou qui vous restait, n’est pas à beaucoup près de cent cinquante louis; secondement, le gain que vous prétendez faire par le commerce d’armement est très-incertain; il est en troisième lieu très-lent à se faire apercevoir; en attendant il faut vivre; et comment vivrez-vous? de leçons? quelle pitoyable ressource, pour être la dernière, dans un pays surtout où les vivres sont si exorbitamment chers et où tout le reste se paye si mal! Des terres incultes à acheter? avec quoi? plus elles sont à bas prix, plus elles indiquent la cherté des denrées; le grand nombre de terres incultes, le besoin qu’on a de les défricher, sont deux preuves des sommes considérables qu’il en coûte pour vivre. Vos réflexions sur le gain à faire sur ces terres et sur le papier, supposent d’abord que vous aurez de quoi en acheter beaucoup, supposition ridicule, et feraient croire que vous vous êtes imaginé disposer des évènemens au gré de vos souhaits et selon vos besoins....
Mr. Franklin doit vous recommander à Philadelphie. Vous y trouverez des ressources que bien d’autres n’auraient pas, mais vous en aurez moins et vous les aurez plus tard que si nous avions été prévenus à tems. Mr. Kenlock, connu de Mlle. Beaulacre et de M. Muller, y est actuellement au Congrès; ne faites pas difficulté de le voir; je ne saurais douter qu’il ne vous aide de ses conseils et que vous ne trouviez auprès de lui des directions convenables.
Malgré les choses désagréables que je puis vous avoir écrites dans cette lettre, vous ne doutez pas, je l’espère, mon cher monsieur, du tendre intérêt que je prends à votre sort, qui me les a dictées, et vous devez être persuadé des vœux sincères que je fais pour l’accomplissement de vos désirs. Le jeune Serre est plus fait que vous pour réussir; son imagination ardente lui fera aisément trouver des ressources, et son courage actif lui fera surmonter les obstacles; mais votre indolence naturelle en vous livrant aux projets hardis de ce jeune homme vous a exposé sans réflexion à des dangers que je redoute pour vous, et si vous comptez sur l’amitié inviolable que vous vous êtes vouée l’un à l’autre (dont à Dieu ne plaise que je vous invite à vous défier) croyez-vous cependant qu’il soit bien délicat de se mettre dans le cas d’attendre ses ressources pour vivre, uniquement de l’imagination et du courage d’autrui? Adieu, mon cher monsieur; ne voyez encore une fois dans ce que je vous ai écrit que le sentiment qui l’a dicté, et croyez-moi pour la vie, mon cher monsieur, votre très-affectionné tuteur.
As has been said, none of Albert’s letters to his family have been preserved. Fortunately, however, his correspondence with his friend Badollet has not been lost, and the first letter of this series, written while he was still in the Loire, from on board the American vessel, the Katty, in which the two travellers had taken passage from Nantes to Boston, is the only vestige of writing now to be found which gives a certain knowledge of the writer’s frame of mind at the moment of his departure.
GALLATIN TO BADOLLET.
Pimbeuf, 16 mai, 1780. C’est un port de mer, 8 lieues [au-dessous de Nantes. Nous] nous y ennuyons beaucoup.
Mon cher ami, pourquoi ne m’as-tu point écrit? j’attendois pour t’écrire de savoir si tu étois à Clérac ou à Genève. J’espère que c’est à Clérac, mais si notre affaire t’a fait manquer ta place, j’espère, vu tout ce que je vois, que nous pourrons t’avoir cette année; j’aimerois cependant mieux que tu eusses quelqu’argent, parcequ’en achetant des marchandises tu gagnerais prodigieusement dessus. Si tu es à Clérac, c’est pour l’année prochaine. J’ai reçu des lettres fort tendres qui m’ont presqu’ébranlé et dans lesquelles on me promet en cas que je persiste, de l’argent et des recommandations. J’ai déjà reçu de celles-ci, et j’ai fait connoissance ici avec des Américains de distinction. En cas que tu sois à Clérac, je t’apprendrai que nous sommes venus à Nantes dans cinq jours fort heureusement, que nous avons trouvé on vaisseau pour Boston nommé la Katti, Cap. Loring, qui partoit le lendemain, mais nous avons été retenus ici depuis 15 jours par les vents contraires et nous irons à Lorient chercher un convoi. Mon adresse est à Monsieur Gallatin à Philadelphie, sous une enveloppe adressée: A Messieurs Struikmann & Meinier frères, à Nantes, le tout affranchi. Des détails sur ta place, je te prie. Nous ne craignons plus rien; on nous a promis de ne pas s’opposer à notre dessein si nous persistions. Hentsch s’est fort bien conduit. Adieu; la poste part, j’ai déjà écrit cinq lettres. Tout à toi.
Serre te fait ses complimens; il dort pour le moment.
The entire sum of money which the two young men brought with them from Geneva was one hundred and sixty-six and two-thirds louis-d’or, equal to four thousand livres tournois, reckoning twenty-four livres to the louis. One-half of this sum was expended in posting across France and paying their passage to Boston. Their capital for trading purposes was therefore about four hundred dollars, which, however, belonged entirely to Gallatin, as Serre had no means and paid no part of the expenses. For a long time to come they could expect no more supplies.
Meanwhile, the family at Geneva had moved heaven and earth to smooth their path, and had written or applied for letters of introduction in their behalf to every person who could be supposed to have influence. One of these persons was the Duc de la Rochefoucauld d’Enville, who wrote to Franklin a letter which may be found in Franklin’s printed correspondence. The letter tells no more than we know; but Franklin’s reply is characteristic. It runs thus:
BENJ. FRANKLIN TO THE DUC DE LA ROCHEFOUCAULD D’ENVILLE.
Passy, May 24, 1780.
Dear Sir,—I enclose the letter you desired for the two young gentlemen of Geneva. But their friends would do well to prevent their voyage.
With sincere and great esteem, I am, dear sir, your most obedient and most humble servant,
The letter enclosed was as follows:
Passy, May 24, 1780.
Dear Son,—Messrs. Gallatin and Serres, two young gentlemen of Geneva, of good families and very good characters, having an inclination to see America, if they should arrive in your city I recommend them to your civilities, counsel, and countenance.
I am ever your affectionate father,B. Franklin.
To Richard Bache, Postmaster-General, Philadelphia.
Lady Juliana Penn, also, wrote to John Penn at Philadelphia in their favor. Mlle. Pictet wrote herself to Colonel Kinloch, then a member of the Continental Congress from South Carolina. Her description of the young men is probably more accurate than any other: “Quoique je n’ai pas l’avantage d’être connue de vous, j’ai trop entendu parler de l’honnêteté et de la sensibilité de votre âme pour hésiter à vous demander un service absolument essentiel au bonheur de ma vie. Deux jeunes gens de ce pays, nommé Gallatin et Serre, n’étant pas contents de leur fortune, qui est effectivement médiocre, et s’étant échauffé l’imagination du désir de s’en faire une eux-mêmes, aidés d’un peu d’enthousiasme pour les Américains, prennent le parti de passer à Philadelphie. Ils sont tous deux pleins d’honneur, de bons sentiments, fort sages, et n’ont jamais donné le moindre sujet de plainte à leurs familles, qui out le plus grand regret de leur départ.... Ils out tous deux des talents et des connaissances; mais je crois qu’ils n’entendent rien au commerce et à la culture des terres qui sont les moyens de fortune qu’ils ont imaginés.” ...
With such introductions and such advantages, aided by the little fortune which Gallatin would inherit on coming of age in 1786, in his twenty-fifth year, the path was open to him. He had but to walk in it. Success, more or less brilliant, was as certain as anything in this world can be.
He preferred a different course. Instead of embracing his opportunities, he repelled them. Like many other brilliant men, he would not, and never did, learn to overcome some youthful prejudices; he disliked great cities and the strife of crowded social life; he never could quite bring himself to believe in their advantages and in the necessity of modern society to agglomerate in masses and either to solve the difficulties inherent in close organization or to perish under them. He preferred a wilderness in his youth, and, as will be seen, continued in theory to prefer it in his age. It was the instinct of his time and his associations; the atmosphere of Rousseau and Jefferson; pure theory, combined with shy pride. He seems never to have made use of his introductions unless when compelled by necessity, and refused to owe anything to his family. Not that even in this early stage of his career he ever assumed an exterior that was harsh or extravagant, or manners that were repulsive; but he chose to take the world from the side that least touched his pride, and, after cutting loose so roughly from the ties of home and family, he could not with self-respect return to follow their paths. His friends could do no more. He disappeared from their sight, and poor Mlle. Pictet could only fold her hands and wait. Adoring her with a warmth of regard which he never failed to express at every mention of her name, he almost broke her heart by the manner of his desertion, and, largely from unwillingness to tell his troubles, largely too, it must be acknowledged, from mere indolence, he left her sometimes for years without a letter or a sign of life. Like many another woman, she suffered acutely; and her letters are beyond words pathetic in their effort to conceal her suffering. Mr. Gallatin always bitterly regretted his fault: it was the only one in his domestic life.
His story must be told as far as possible in his own words; but there remain only his letters to Badollet to throw light on his manner of thinking and his motives of action at this time. In these there are serious gaps. He evidently did not care to tell all he had to endure; but with what shall be given it will be easy for the reader to divine the rest.
The two young men landed on Cape Ann on the 14th July, 1780. The war was still raging, and the result still uncertain. General Gates was beaten at Camden on the 16th August, and all the country south of Virginia lost. More than a year passed before the decisive success at Yorktown opened a prospect of peace. The travellers had no plans, and, if one may judge from their tone and behavior, were as helpless as two boys of nineteen would commonly be in a strange country, talking a language of which they could only stammer a few words, and trying to carry on mercantile operations without a market and with a currency at its last gasp. They had brought tea from Nantes as a speculation, and could only dispose of it by taking rum and miscellaneous articles in exchange. Their troubles were many, and it is clear that they were soon extremely homesick; for, after riding on horseback from Gloucester to Boston, they took refuge at a French coffee-house kept by a certain Tahon, and finding there a Genevan, whom chance threw in their way, they clang to him with an almost pathetic persistence. On September 4 they bought a horse and yellow chaise for eight thousand three hundred and thirty-three dollars. Perhaps it was in this chaise that they made an excursion to Wachusett Hill, which they climbed. But their own letters will describe them best.
GALLATIN TO BADOLLET.
Boston, 14 septembre, 1780.
Mon cher ami, je t’ai déjà écrit une lettre il y a quatre jours, mais elle a bien des hazards à courir, ainsi je vais t’en récrire une seconde par une autre occasion, et je vais commencer par un résumé de ce que je te disais dans ma première.
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