THE LITTLE FRENCHMAN AND HIS WATER LOTS
BY GEORGE POPE MORRIS (1802-1864)
Look into those they call unfortunate,
And, closer view'd, you'll find they are unwise.--Young.
Let wealth come in by comely thrift,
And not by any foolish shift:
Who gripes too hard the dry and slippery sand
Holds none at all, or little, in his hand.--Herrick.
Let well alone.--Proverb.
How much real comfort every one might enjoy if he would
be contented with the lot in which heaven has cast him,
and how much trouble would be avoided if people would
only "let well alone." A moderate independence, quietly
and honestly procured, is certainly every way preferable
even to immense possessions achieved by the wear and tear
of mind and body so necessary to procure them. Yet there
are very few individuals, let them be doing ever so well
in the world, who are not always straining every nerve to
do better; and this is one of the many causes why failures
in business so frequently occur among us. The present
generation seem unwilling to "realize" by slow and sure
degrees; but choose rather to set their whole hopes upon
a single cast, which either makes or mars them forever!
Gentle reader, do you remember Monsieur Poopoo? He used
to keep a small toy-store in Chatham, near the corner of
Pearl Street. You must recollect him, of course. He lived
there for many years, and was one of the most polite and
accommodating of shopkeepers. When a juvenile, you have
bought tops and marbles of him a thousand times. To be
sure you have; and seen his vinegar-visage lighted up
with a smile as you flung him the coppers; and you have
laughed at his little straight queue and his dimity
breeches, and all the other oddities that made up the
every-day apparel of my little Frenchman. Ah, I perceive
you recollect him now.
Well, then, there lived Monsieur Poopoo ever since he
came from "dear, delightful Paris," as he was wont to
call the city of his nativity--there he took in the
pennies for his kickshaws--there he laid aside five
thousand dollars against a rainy day--there he was as
happy as a lark--and there, in all human probability,
he would have been to this very day, a respected and
substantial citizen, had he been willing to "let well
alone." But Monsieur Poopoo had heard strange stories
about the prodigious rise in real estate; and, having
understood that most of his neighbors had become
suddenly rich by speculating in lots, he instantly
grew dissatisfied with his own lot, forthwith determined
to shut up shop, turn everything into cash, and set
about making money in right-down earnest. No sooner
said than done; and our quondam storekeeper a few days
afterward attended an extensive sale of real estate,
at the Merchants' Exchange.
There was the auctioneer, with his beautiful and inviting
lithographic maps--all the lots as smooth and square
and enticingly laid out as possible--and there were
the speculators--and there, in the midst of them, stood
"Here they are, gentlemen," said he of the hammer, "the
most valuable lots ever offered for sale. Give me a bid
"One hundred each," said a bystander.
"One hundred!" said the auctioneer, "scarcely enough to
pay for the maps. One hundred--going--and fifty--gone!
Mr. H., they are yours. A noble purchase. You'll sell
those same lots in less than a fortnight for fifty
thousand dollars profit!"
Monsieur Poopoo pricked up his ears at this, and was lost
in astonishment. This was a much easier way certainly of
accumulating riches than selling toys in Chatham Street,
and he determined to buy and mend his fortune without
The auctioneer proceeded in his sale. Other parcels were
offered and disposed of, and all the purchasers were
promised immense advantages for their enterprise. At
last came a more valuable parcel than all the rest. The
company pressed around the stand, and Monsieur Poopoo
did the same.
"I now offer you, gentlemen, these magnificent lots,
delightfully situated on Long Island, with valuable
water privileges. Property in fee--title indisputable--terms
of sale, cash--deeds ready for delivery immediately
after the sale. How much for them? Give them a start
at something. How much?" The auctioneer looked around;
there were no bidders. At last he caught the eye of
Monsieur Poopoo. "Did you say one hundred, sir? Beautiful
lots--valuable water privileges--shall I say one hundred
"Oui, monsieur; I will give you von hundred dollar
apiece, for de lot vid de valuarble vatare privalege;
"Only one hundred apiece for these sixty valuable lots--only
Monsieur Poopoo was the fortunate possessor. The auctioneer
congratulated him--the sale closed--and the company
"Pardonnez-moi, monsieur," said Poopoo, as the auctioneer
descended his pedestal, "you shall excusez-moi, if I
shall go to votre bureau, your counting-house, ver quick
to make every ting sure wid respec to de lot vid de valuarble
vatare privalege. Von leetle bird in de hand he vorth two
in de tree, c'est vrai--eh?"
"Vell den, allons."
And the gentlemen repaired to the counting-house, where
the six thousand dollars were paid, and the deeds of the
property delivered. Monsieur Poopoo put these carefully
in his pocket, and as he was about taking his leave, the
auctioneer made him a present of the lithographic outline
of the lots, which was a very liberal thing on his part,
considering the map was a beautiful specimen of that
glorious art. Poopoo could not admire it sufficiently.
There were his sixty lots, as uniform as possible, and
his little gray eyes sparkled like diamonds as they
wandered from one end of the spacious sheet to the other.
Poopoo's heart was as light as a feather, and he snapped
his fingers in the very wantonness of joy as he repaired
to Delmonico's, and ordered the first good French dinner
that had gladdened his palate since his arrival in America.
After having discussed his repast, and washed it down
with a bottle of choice old claret, he resolved upon a
visit to Long Island to view his purchase. He consequently
immediately hired a horse and gig, crossed the Brooklyn
ferry, and drove along the margin of the river to the
Wallabout, the location in question.
Our friend, however, was not a little perplexed to find
his property. Everything on the map was as fair and even
as possible, while all the grounds about him were as
undulated as they could well be imagined, and there was
an elbow of the East River thrusting itself quite into
the ribs of the land, which seemed to have no business
there. This puzzled the Frenchman exceedingly; and, being
a stranger in those parts, he called to a farmer in an
"Mon ami, are you acquaint vid dis part of de country--eh?"
"Yes, I was born here, and know every inch of it."
"Ah, c'est bien, dat vill do," and the Frenchman got out
of the gig, tied the horse, and produced his lithographic
"Den maybe you vill have de kindness to show me de sixty
lot vich I have bought, vid de valuarble vatare privalege?"
The farmer glanced his eye over the paper.
"Yes, sir, with pleasure; if you will be good enough to
get into my boat, I will row you out to them!"
"Vat dat you say, sure?"
"My friend," said the farmer, "this section of Long Island
has recently been bought up by the speculators of New York,
and laid out for a great city; but the principal street is
only visible at low tide. When this part of the East River
is filled up, it will be just there. Your lots, as you will
perceive, are beyond it; and are now all under water."
At first the Frenchman was incredulous. He could not believe
his senses. As the facts, however, gradually broke upon him,
he shut one eye, squinted obliquely at the heavens---the
river--the farmer--and then he turned away and squinted at
them all over again! There was his purchase sure enough; but
then it could not be perceived for there was a river flowing
over it! He drew a box from his waistcoat pocket, opened it,
with an emphatic knock upon the lid, took a pinch of snuff
and restored it to his waistcoat pocket as before. Poopoo
was evidently in trouble, having "thoughts which often lie
too deep for tears"; and, as his grief was also too big for
words, he untied his horse, jumped into his gig, and returned
to the auctioneer in hot haste.
It was near night when he arrived at the auction-room--his
horse in a foam and himself in a fury. The auctioneer was
leaning back in his chair, with his legs stuck out of a low
window, quietly smoking a cigar after the labors of the day,
and humming the music from the last new opera.
"Monsieur, I have much plaisir to fin' you, chez vous, at
"Ah, Poopoo! glad to see you. Take a seat, old boy."
"But I shall not take de seat, sare."
"No--why, what's the matter?"
"Oh, beaucoup de matter. I have been to see de gran lot
vot you sell me to-day."
"Well, sir, I hope you like your purchase?"
"No, monsieur, I no like him."
"I'm sorry for it; but there is no ground for your
"No, sare; dare is no ground at all--de ground is all
"I no joke. I nevare joke; je n'entends pas la raillerie,
voulez-vous have de kindness to give me back de
money vot I pay!"
"Den vill you be so good as to take de East River off de
top of my lot?"
"That's your business, sir, not mine."
"Den I make von mauvaise affaire--von gran mistake!"
"I hope not. I don't think you have thrown your money away
in the land."
"No, sare; but I tro it avay in de vatare!"
"That's not my fault."
"Yes, sare, but it is your fault. You're von ver gran
rascal to swindle me out of de l'argent."
"Hello, old Poopoo, you grow personal; and if you can't
keep a civil tongue in your head, you must go out of my
"Vare shall I go to, eh?"
"To the devil, for aught I care, you foolish old Frenchman!"
said the auctioneer, waxing warm.
"But, sare, I vill not go to de devil to oblige you!"
replied the Frenchman, waxing warmer. "You sheat me out
of all de dollar vot I make in Shatham Street; but I vill
not go to de devil for all dat. I vish you may go to de
devil yourself you dem yankee-doo-dell, and I vill go and
drown myself, tout de suite, right avay."
"You couldn't make a better use of your water privileges,
"Ah, misericorde! Ah, mon dieu, je suis abime. I am
ruin! I am done up! I am break all into ten sousan leetle
pieces! I am von lame duck, and I shall vaddle across de
gran ocean for Paris, vish is de only valuarble vatare
privalege dat is left me a present!"
Poor Poopoo was as good as his word. He sailed in the
next packet, and arrived in Paris almost as penniless
as the day he left it.
Should any one feel disposed to doubt the veritable
circumstances here recorded, let him cross the East
River to the Wallabout, and farmer J---- will row
him out to the very place where the poor Frenchman's
lots still remain under water.