Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Court Ball at the Palace of Mexico by William Wells, Overland Monthly (1868)

Only a few years ago it was no casual undertaking to secure an 1868 magazine article. But now we have an cornucopia of digital material at our fingertips, and among the wonders, many gems, such as this one, William V. Wells' "A Court Ball at the Palace of Mexico." Published in the Overland Monthly in 1868, sometime after the event itself--- winter of 1865--- Wells' article recounts his experience as a guest at what was, without doubt, one of the most astonishing entertainments yet offered in the Americas. I've been researching this period for several years and I have yet to come upon as fine and detailed a memoir of any one of Maximilian's palace balls as this one.

Wells (1826 - 1876) also published a lengthy and entertaining article on an ascent of Popocatepetl (Mexican volcano) in November 1865 for Harper's. Read that one here.

P.S. In the bibliography for my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, I only had room to list "selected books consulted," so, alas, "A Court Ball" does not appear there, though I relied heavily on it (as well as others and the Reglamento) for the scene in chapter three. However, as a tip of the cap, I brough Mr Wells in as a character in the opening chapter, one of the journalists at the U.S. Minister Corwin's rooftop entertainment when the French troops marched into Mexico City in 1863. The scene with Alice Green de Iturbide (the American mother of the "last prince", then a tiny baby) and Mr Wells is fictional--- I don't know whether Wells was there or not. But I do know, from a family memoir I found an the Agustin de Iturbide Green archive at Catholic University in Washington DC that, indeed, Alice de Iturbide held the baby in her arms as she and her husband, Angel de Iturbide, witnessed the French troops marching in, from the vantage point of the roof of the U.S. Legation.

As for Mr Corwin, the ex-Senator from Ohio, and ex-Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, he was a popular minister (ambassador) in Mexico because of his well-known and adamant opposition to the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846. Shortly after the French occupied Mexico City, Corwin was recalled to Washington DC; the United States refused to recognize a French-supported monarchy in Mexico. Notably, Corwin served as one of the pallbearers in President Lincoln's funeral.

More next Tuesday.


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