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BY MRS. ELLET,
ACTIOR OF "THE WOMEN OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION," * WOURS ARTISTS," 5TC.
tstyr3007 IL 5 42505.185
Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1967, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER & CO. In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the
Sonthern District of New York.
SOME friends have objected, in advance, to the title of this volume, on the ground that the term “queens," as applied to the subjects, seems out of place in the society of a republic. But if we call to mind how continually and universally the expression is used in ordinary conversation, it must be conceded that no other would do as well. We are all accustomed to hear of any leading lady that she is “a perfect queen," the “queen of society," a "reigning belle," the “queen of the occasion,” &c. The phrase is in every one's mouth, and no one is misled by it. The sway of Beauty and Fashion, too, is essentially royal; there is nothing republican about it. Every belle, every leader of the ton, is despotic in proportion to her power; and the quality of imperial authority is absolutely inseparable from her state. I maintain, therefore, that no title is so just and appropriate to the women illustrated in this work, as that of “queens.”
It may be thought that too much space has been given to personal description and accounts of dress and entertaininents. It should be borne in mind, that the subjects are the Flowers of the sex-choice and cultivated flowers-not representatives of womankind in general. To them especially and necessarily pertain the adornments of person and the luxury of surroundings; and in scenes of festal display they are the stars of attraction. To present them without the adjuncts and associations of dress and gayety would be fair neither to them nor the reader. There is significance, too, in the style of decoration and amuseinents, as well as that of daily living. The style prevalent in the early days of the republic differed widely from the present, as does that of the West and the South from ours in the metropolis and the Atlantic cities.
In a country so extensive-embracing such diversities in climate, habits of life, and tone of the community-it cannot certainly be expected that society should have always and every where the same prevailing features. The differences are marked in different sections; and a social favorite in one might be regarded in another as entitled to do distinction. It will be obvious, therefore, how unfair it would be to measure by the same rules those who have been made unlike by diverse origin, customs, and training. There are points of similarity enough, if a broad and liberal view of other conditions be taken.
I trust the candid reader will admit that the women most prominent in our society have had better than frivolous claims to distinction; that they have possessed high moral worth and superior intellect. Many of them have devoted their influence and efforts to works of charity. It is the blessing of New York-so justly reproached as the temple of money-worship—that her most elevated society is pervaded by a noble spirit of benevolence, and the refinement of taste growing out of mental culture. A line of distinction is drawn between the class that confers honor on the country, and mere shallow and vulgar pretenders whose lavish display of wealth is their only merit. Abundant materials for the illustration of this latter class were at hand, but they have not been used.
It has seemed to me that a comprehensive view of the best society would be a valuable part of the country's history. It is curious and interesting to trace the noted families whose descendants have spread over the land, and, parting with the aristocracy derived from ancient blood, have risen to individual distinction. The limits of a single volume are too narrow to do full justice to the subject; but enough is done to show the study a worthy one.
The reader is indebted for the memoir of Mrs. Jay, to the pen of her gifted descendant, Mr. John Jay, of New York.