Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aunt Becky

Rebecca Gratz, a devoted aunt to her numerous nieces and nephews, was also "Aunt Becky" to the children of friends. She enjoyed entertaining and assisting these young people when they were in Philadelphia, and they returned her attentions with lasting affection.

One of these children was Caroline Murat, the great-niece of Napoleon Bonaparte. Not someone you might expect to meet in Philadelphia, Caroline was the daughter of Lucien Murat, the son of one of Napoleon's sisters. He had followed his uncle, Joseph Bonaparte, into exile in Bordentown, NJ, and had married Caroline Fraser, a young woman of good family, who was living there. Murat was much better at spending than earning money, and his wife was forced to open a school for girls to pay the bills. Rebecca's nephew Gratz Moses, a doctor in Bordentown, became the family's physician; he introduced his aunt to Mrs. Murat, and a warm friendship ensued.

Here is how Caroline remembered Rebecca many years later (she was about thirteen years old, at the time she is describing, the winter of 1846-47):

"I was going to stay with some old friends of my mother to whom I often went to visit....Our friends lived on Chestnut Street No. 2, Boston Row [between 12th and 13th Sts.]. They were a Jewish family -- a dear old maiden lady, her two brothers [actually three] and a niece. 'Aunt Becky,' as we always called her...had still a very beautiful face, a most perfect type of Jewish beauty. Her form and figure, cast in nature's happiest mold, few could rival, and I enjoyed being with her."

There are several factual errors in the complete passage (which I have abridged here). However, the emotional content of her reminiscences is one of authentic happiness.

Caroline and her family were saved from penury by the ascension of their cousin, Napoleon III, to the imperial throne. They went to France, became princes and princesses, and lived well, at least until the end of the Second Empire.

(Caroline's quotation is from My Memoirs, published by G.P. Putnam's & Sons, New York, in 1910.)

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