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Social Exiles
by [?]

Balzac, in his Comedie Humaine, has reviewed with a master-hand almost every phase of the Social World of Paris down to 1850 and Thackeray left hardly a corner of London High Life unexplored; but so great have been the changes (progress, its admirers call it,) since then, that, could Balzac come back to his beloved Paris, he would feel like a foreigner there; and Thackeray, who was among us but yesterday, would have difficulty in finding his bearings in the sea of the London world to-day.

We have changed so radically that even a casual observer cannot help being struck by the difference. Among other most significant “phenomena” has appeared a phase of life that not only neither of these great men observed (for the very good reason that it had not appeared in their time), but which seems also to have escaped the notice of the writers of our own day, close observers as they are of any new development. I mean the class of Social Exiles, pitiable wanderers from home and country, who haunt the Continent, and are to be found (sad little colonies) in out-of- the-way corners of almost every civilized country.

To know much of this form of modern life, one must have been a wanderer, like myself, and have pitched his tent in many queer places; for they are shy game and not easily raised, frequenting mostly quiet old cities like Versailles and Florence, or inexpensive watering-places where their meagre incomes become affluence by contrast. The first thought on dropping in on such a settlement is, “How in the world did these people ever drift here?” It is simple enough and generally comes about in this way:

The father of a wealthy family dies. The fortune turns out to be less than was expected. The widow and children decide to go abroad for a year or so, during their period of mourning, partially for distraction, and partially (a fact which is not spoken of) because at home they would be forced to change their way of living to a simpler one, and that is hard to do, just at first. Later they think it will be quite easy. So the family emigrates, and after a little sight-seeing, settles in Dresden or Tours, casually at first, in a hotel. If there are young children they are made the excuse. “The languages are so important!” Or else one of the daughters develops a taste for music, or a son takes up the study of art. In a year or two, before a furnished apartment is taken, the idea of returning is discussed, but abandoned “for the present.” They begin vaguely to realize how difficult it will be to take life up again at home. During all this time their income (like everything else when the owners are absent) has been slowly but surely disappearing, making the return each year more difficult. Finally, for economy, an unfurnished apartment is taken. They send home for bits of furniture and family belongings, and gradually drop into the great army of the expatriated.

Oh, the pathos of it! One who has not seen these poor stranded waifs in their self-imposed exile, with eyes turned towards their native land, cannot realize all the sadness and loneliness they endure, rarely adopting the country of their residence but becoming more firmly American as the years go by. The home papers and periodicals are taken, the American church attended, if there happens to be one; the English chapel, if there is not. Never a French church! In their hearts they think it almost irreverent to read the service in French. The acquaintance of a few fellow-exiles is made and that of a half-dozen English families, mothers and daughters and a younger son or two, whom the ferocious primogeniture custom has cast out of the homes of their childhood to economize on the Continent.