A Christmas Letter from Paris

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

In 1850 Seth Loring Sprague (1825-1897), the nephew and adopted son of Seth and Welthea Sprague of Duxbury, was studying abroad.  He wrote a letter from Paris to his uncle on Christmas Day after hearing mass at the Church of St. Rochelle.  France, during the holiday season, would have presented a far different spectacle from what the young New Englander had ever experienced before.  The Unitarian and Methodist Churches that he had attended in Duxbury did not place much emphasis on the Christmas holiday during the early 19th century.  It is not surprising then that Seth Loring Sprague did not spend too much time describing the sites he was seeing.  His uncle may not have approved of him reveling too much.  What is surprising, however, is how laboriously young Seth justified his expenditures to his uncle, one of the wealthiest men in Duxbury at the time.  Perhaps this letter gives us a glimpse into the personality of the elder Hon. Seth Sprague – a man seemingly concerned with the cost of everything, right down to the last sous.

Paris, 1850-1870

Paris, 1850-1870

Paris, Dec 25, 1850

Dear Uncle,

It is Christmas today and I have just come from the Church of St. Roch where high mass was performed. The church was crowded and it was difficult to get inside but I made little progress by degrees and finally came as far as the pulpit in the middle of the church. The music was very fine and this church is celebrated for its fine music, there being many Opera singers who sing here. Tonight at twelve o’clock I shall go to the cathedral of Notre Dame and witness the ceremony and hear the music there.

Your letter of the 10th of November I recieved on Friday a day or two after I wrote you my last letter Dec 12. The steamer had a longer passage than usual. I recieved also a newspaper the Boston Atlas on Sunday after I recieved your letter.

Before I received your letter I had decided to write the next one to you about money affairs, and I will commence that subject from my first arrival at Antwerp.

I arrived at Antwerp on Tuesday, July 2nd having twenty pounds which I got in New York.  This lasted during my stay in Antwerp, my journey to Colgne, voyage up the Rhine to Geneva in Switzerland.  Here I drew or rather borrowed from Mr. Budington twenty pounds, as I then had no letter of credit.  When I started from Antwerp I had no thought of going to Switzerland and thought that twenty pounds would be sufficient.  But when I was at Frankfurt I went on to Heidelberg and then to Baden Baden and was going to return, but Mr. Budington persuaded me to go on.  I told him I did not think of going to Switzerland when I left Antwerp and had not money enough and therefore could not go.  He said that would make no difference, he would lend it to me and Mr. Crafts said the same.  Having then much good credit I continued on.  I thought it was very good credit for such short acquaintance.  I then wrote to Baring & Brothers giving him the following names of the places I intended visiting.  Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Paris.

I received my letter of credit at Berne in Switzerland.  We did not go to Milan as we had not the Austrian visa.  On our arrival at Amersterdam I went to Mssrs Hope & Co and drew twelve pounds.  I gave my note to Mr. Budington and when he arrived in London he obtained the twenty pounds from Baring & Brothers.  I then came to Paris [Seth includes a lenghthy description of his funds and expenditures]…

I expect now to remain in Paris until the last of June and then go to London.  I may spend July or not go until July and spend August.  So the great part of the rest of my months will be spent in Paris. My expenses here are something near three hundred francs a month.  I pay for my room forty francs per month.  The expense for clothes are about the same as in Boston which I have not reckoned in to the account.  If I purchase many books that also is extra.  Concerning postage, new paper is 7 sous. I think I wrote you in one of my first letters that all letters were double which weigh more than one quarter of an ounce.  The first letter I wrote you on that very thin paper consisting of two sheets to a letter were single, weighing less that 1/4 ounce.  Two sheets of this paper, such as this letter is written on would be close to double postage.  Your last letter of two sheets was a double one and the postage of it was three francs.  Greene & Co change 1/2 or 1 franc for sending it which makes the postage 4 francs for a double letter.  The postage for a single letter from there to the United States is 1 1/2 francs or thirty sous and I am obliged to pay for all the letters that I send as well as for those I receive.  A letter to England does not require to be pre-paid if it goes by the way of Enlgand, as by Liverpool steamers.  There is a steamer or steamers that run between Hause and New York and a letter sent by them does not require to be prepaid entirely.  One pays only twelve sous, the rest of the postage is paid in America.  So you see letter writing is rather expensive for me for I must pay the postage both ways.  I wrote you in my last or one before the last that Greene & Co charged for four letters that I have received twelve francs; two were single and two double or weighed over 1/4 oz.  If you direct to No. 35 Rue de Tournon my letters will cost less.

As for my plans for the future, they are something like this, which I submit to you.  I propose to remain in Paris until June or July and then go to London as the Exposition continues there for several months.  I shall get underway in French and in my medical courses in the spring and I think it would be better not to break them off by going to London in first of May.  The month of July I might spend in London, England.  I should like on some account to spend three months in Dublin – Aug, Sept, Oct.  November would be a good month in which to go to Rome. In December return to Paris and spend the winter.  When I know more about it I will write you.  What do you think of that plan? I do not propose to travel extensively.  I should like to go to Rome, Venice, Naples, Milan and Florence, all in Italy. In England, London, Liverpool, Edinburg, Dublin and wander al little away the heaths of Scotland.

Yours affectionately,
S. L. Sprague

I received Aunt Sprague’s lette in very good season last Tuesday 24 Dec and will answer it in two or three weeks.

I want to hear all about the fair, and I presume you will write all the particulars.  I hope you made some money by it, as much as you want.

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