My book Souvenirs of Travel circa 1857 proudly displayed on the top of my Empire dresser
A few days after Christmas I had decided to visit one of the used books stores in Mobile, Alabama that I go to once a month or so. If it’s one thing I can’t get enough of is books. Plus this place has good prices on Antique books. Once there I always go for the glass front bookcase that has rare and valuable books of local interest to Mobile, Alabama. I was Surprised to find volume 1 of Souvenirs of Travel (1857), inside of the case written by one of Mobile leading citizens of the mid 19th century, Madam Le Vert.
As I eyed the ornate Antebellum pressed clothbound 1857 book thru the glass I thought about how as a child before the age of ten this book along with it’s mate volume 2 were at the top of my list of books to own for many reasons. As I peered at the book, I wondered if I could afford it as the price was on the back of the book. I had some Christmas money, which is what I like best for Christmas so that I could buy things that I liked or wanted like this book if it was priced right.
The case is never locked and visitors are welcome to open it. Before I open the glass case door I said a little prayer. I opened the door slowly, picked up the book and turned it over. The price was $49.00 on a bright yellow sticker. I did not think twice about buying it as the one volume is priced from $250-$350 on abebooks. The set of two books priced from $900-$1,350. Nobody had to tell me I was getting a great deal that day. I ran to the front counter to place it in safety so no one else would pick up my find as I finished looking around the bookshop. So Much has been written about Madam Le Vert and I had read parts of her books detailing her two fabulous European travels of the 1850’s, but now I can read a first edition book published right here in Mobile by a early southern publisher. This book purchased with Christmas money will become one of my most admired possessions. Here is some info about Madam Le Vert and her life and I have also included the publisher’s forward by Sigismund Heinric Goetzel himself in 1857. It is in the front of the book.
Octavia Celestia Valentine Walton in her 1833 debutante portrait painted by
America’s top portrait painter at the time Thomas Sully in . Philadelphia
Madam Le Vert was one of the best known women of the 1850’s. She was Born Octavia Celestia Valentine Walton on the 18th of August 1810, at Belle Vue a family home near Augusta, Georgia; died also at Belle Vue 12 March 1877, near Augusta, Georgia
She was the daughter of George Jr. and Sally Walker Walton; married a French American Henry Strachey Le Vert, 1836 in Mobile, Alabama. Proud that Henry’s father had come with Rochambeau to aid the struggling colonies.
Octavia Walton Le Vert seemed destined by parentage and by place and year of birth to not only become a Southern belle but a Belle international fame. Her intelligence, education, vivacity, and wealth suited her to be also a cosmopolitan hostess and traveler. She played both roles flawlessly. Her life began and ended at Belle Vue, the estate of her grandfather George Walker. Her paternal grandfather, one of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, was George Walton, and her father was acting governor and territorial secretary of Florida at Pensacola. And latter the family moved to Mobile Alabama where her father became Mayor.
Le Vert's mother and her grandmother carefully groomed and tutored the child for an aristocratic life that she would live. She learned to sing, dance, paint, draw and play the piano and guitar. As child and as adult, she read widely. Her facility for language allowed her Scotch tutor to teach her Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. By the time she was twelve years old, she was so adept at language she could translate foreign dispatches for her father in Pensacola. When Lafayette visited the Waltons in 1825, the young Octavia delighted him with her conversation in French. In Pensacola, Le Vert knew the Seminoles who negotiated with her father. From them she learned the Native American language and legends.
Madam Octavia Walton Le Vert at the time of her European travels
Le Vert was well traveled in the U.S. and Europe. During the summer months the family would travel up North to spend time at fashionable resorts in town like Saratoga Springs, NY. When the young Edgar Allan Poe met Octavia he feel in love with her, wrote her a love poem. Her 1833 debutante portrait was painted by America’s top portrait painter at the time Thomas Sully in Philadelphia. She met and charmed people with power and position. In Washington, D.C., she visited President Jackson at the White House and was a good friend of Senator Henry Clay. In 1835, the Walton family moved to Mobile, Alabama, where George Walton later served as mayor. There, as a volunteer nurse, Le Vert met a handsome French physician whom she married in 1836. They had five children, several of whom died as children. In Mobile, Le Vert established what was perhaps the only French-styled salon in America. On her "Mondays," she received the social elite and persons distinguished in the arts and politics from eleven in the morning until eleven at night.
She loved the theater and knew many of the outstanding actors of the day. Particular friends were Edwin and John Booth, Joseph Jefferson, and Anna Cora Mowatt. In the 1850’s Madame became an enthusiastic supporter of the movement to save the deteriorating home of George Washington, Mount Vernon, and was appointed the first Alabama Vice-Regent of Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Madam Le Vert was always a proponent of woman’s rights when this view was unpopular.
The Home of Madam Le Vert located at 151 Goverment street in Mobile, Alabama
Le Vert established what was perhaps the only French-styled salon in
. On her "Mondays," she received the social elite and persons distinguished in the arts and politics from eleven in the morning until eleven at night. America
When war between the states came, Le Vert, who had opposed secession from the Union which her grandfather had help to establish and had always felt that slavery was wrong, remained in Mobile and welcomed Yankees into her home, some of whom had been friends with in happier days. Public opinion turned against her, and she was denounced as a "Yankee spy." By the end of the Civil War, her husband was dead and their money gone. For a time, she traveled and gave public readings, spending time in New York she became a charter member of “Sorosis” said to be the first woman’s club in America. But soon she returned to Belle Vue where she died.
Souvenirs of Travel (1857), compiled from her journals and letters home to her mother, is Le Vert's account of two trips to Europe in 1853 and 1855, during which she was received by Queen Victoria and Pope Pius IX, presented to Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, escorted in Paris by ex-President Millard Fillmore, and introduced to Robert and Elizabeth Browning.
The book glorifies the Old World with sentimental descriptions of notable people and famous places. Le Vert was an accomplished linguist. For instance, in her diary she wrote about translating Dante's descent into hell into three languages one afternoon for her own enjoyment. Souvenirs was read by some important people who wrote to Le Vert thanking her for a copy of the book or complimenting her on it. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edwin Booth, Washington Irving, and President James Buchanan were among her admirers.
As I bought this as a Christmas gift for myself I realized that it was originally presented as a Christmas gift in 1857.
The publisher’s forward by Sigismund Heinric Goetzel himself in 1857
The materials of these volumes were not originally designed
for publication. They consist chiefly of the private letters,
journals, and sketches of a distinguished American lady,
during two visits to Europe. Her social position at home,
and an extensive acquaintance with the highest circles
abroad, gave her familiar access to scenes and personages
and conditions of life not ordinarily within the reach of
the foreign traveller. The mystic veil which hides the
penetralia of courtly and aristocratic society, was lifted for
her eyes, and she was facilitated in her observations and
experiences to a degree seldom awarded to an American
before. With the readiest and keenest powers of percep-
tion, with a mind fully informed historically as to all the
localities she visited, with a wonderfully retentive memory,
retaining all the sands of gold that filtrated through its
stream, and with the most genial and appreciative sympathies
for whatever is best and most beautiful in literature, art, and
social intercourse, she combined advantages calculated to
make her visits missions fruitful with facts and views of
wide general interest and utility.
Some of her letters to her friends, written during the
hurry of travel, were yet so graphic and attractive that
they were given to the press; and being reproduced all
through the country, excited an almost universal desire for
the publication of a full account of her travels. Those
friends who were admitted to her intimacies at home, be-
came aware what a rich mine of pleasing information, and
interesting adventure, existed in the various memoranda
she had made while in Europe. Their solicitations, and
reiterated persuasions from literary friends in all parts of
the Union, led to the preparation of this volume. The
original journals and letters have been carefully revised by
their author, additional memorials have been added, and
many parts that in the original form necessarily partook
largely of the personal and egotistic, have been omitted.
This statement might suffice to introduce these Souve-
nirs OF Travel to the world, but the Publishers deem it
proper to add a few words as to the gifted and accomplished
author. Madame Octavia "Walton Le Vert is perhaps more
widely known, in a social way, than any other American
lady. Born in Georgia, the grandchild of that Walton
who was both sage and soldier in the Revolution, and whose
name is immortal on the Chart of American Freedom, she
had from her infancy the highest social and intellectual ad-
vantages. Reared to womanhood at Pensacola, she received
the most thorough instruction, and became fully versed not
only in her native tongue, but in the French, Spanish, and
Italian languages, speaking and writing them with accuracy
and elegance. The presence of the Navy officers at Peu-
sacola gave a great charm to the society there, and
under the most propitious auspices the young flower
expanded to light and beauty. The gifts of personal loveli-
ness were hers in a very high degree ; but her intellectual
accomplishments, and the perpetual sunshine of a gay and
joyous spirit, always amiable, kind, and considerate, gave to
their possessor her chief charms. Visiting the principal
cities of the Union, and the principal points of fashionable
resort, Miss Walton became widely known, admired, and be-
loved. At Washington City she was early honored by the
warm friendship of Mr. Clay, which continued until his
death, — an event that drew from his fair friend one of the
most touching and eloquent tributes to his memory. Mr.
Calhoun also was exceedingly kind to the " gifted daughter
of the South," as he was pleased to call her, and particularly
admired a series of sketches of distinguished Senators, Repre-
sentatives, and Statesmen, whom she had met at the Federal
Capital, — a work which we regret has never been published.
The life of a lady is commonly a calm current of domestic
duties and social benevolences. The author of these volumes
became the wife of Dr. Henry S. Le Yert, a learned and emi-
nent physician of Mobile, Alabama. A circle of beautiful
children sprang up around them, and claimed the constant
care and nurture of their mother. In the performance of
this part has been one of the chief beauties of her life. At
the same time, she has filled the highest social position, and
dispensed the most enlarged hospitality. No stranger of
distinction has visited Mobile for years, without seeking her
acquaintance, and receiving the most cordial kindness. This
has made her friends in every part of the world, and among
the most influential personages. Lady Emeline Stuart
"Wortley, a daughter of the Duke of Rutland, and of the
household of Queen Victoria, and Frederika Bremer, the
gifted novelist of Sweden, whose more than royal fame is
everywhere acknowledged, thus became united in ties of the
strongest personal friendship, baptized too, as it were, in
tears of mutual sympathy and suffering at the time, with
Madame Le Yert.
These acquaintanceships were mainly influential in in-
ducing the first visit of our fair countrywoman to Europe,
and gave her that immediate entree into the highest society,
whose experiences constitute the chief specialty of her
Of the intrinsic characteristics of the present volume, the
publishers will not particularly speak. The book, they think,
will be found fully worthy of the high fame of the author.
Upon her part, it is given to the public with the most shrink-
ing reluctance. She does not aspire to the laurels of author-
ship, but only desires to impart to others the pleasure re-
ceived from wandering amid the storied scenes of the Old
World, and holding social communion with personages whose
names arc " whispered by the lips of fame." Few itineraries,
however, will be found so full of valuable information, so
rich in brilliant descriptions, and so picturesque and glowing
in style and arrangement of particulars. This will make the
book invaluable to all of our citizens who may visit Europe,
and wish to have an intelligent guide and companion in their
travels. One pervading charm they will find in these volumes,
that will stir and keep fresh their own patriotism, — that in
all her wanderings, whether at the refined court of St. James
in the imperial presence of Louis Napoleon, or under the
consecrated tapestries of the Papal palace, our accomplished
countrywoman was ever staunchly true to her republican
lineage, and came back home American in heart and mind.
With these thoughts as to the book and its author, the
publishers respectfully submit it to the reader, confident that
they have made a valuable contribution to a most interesting
branch of the rising literature of our country.
Mobile, July^ 1857.