Portrait Gallery

Nathaniel Parker Willis

The first “Society Letters,” as they were called, written from Washington, were by Nathaniel P. Willis, to the New York Mirror. Willis was at that time a foppish, slender young man, with a profusion of curly, light hair, and was always dressed in the height of fashion. He had, while traveling in Europe, mingled with the aristocratic classes, and he affected to look down upon the masses; but with all his snobbishness he had a wonderful faculty for endowing trifling occurrences with interest, and his letters have never been surpassed. He possessed a sunny nature, full of poetry, enthusiasm, and cheerfulness, and was always willing to say a pleasant word for those who treated him kindly, and never sought to retaliate on his enemies.

Willis first introduced steel pens at Washington, having brought over from England some of those made by Joseph Gillott, at Birmingham. Before this goose-quill pens had been exclusively used, and there was in each House of Congress and in each Department a penmaker, who knew what degree of flexibility and breadth of point each writer desired. Every gentleman had to carry a penknife, and to have in his desk a hone to sharpen it on, giving the finishing touches on one of his boots.…

from Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis by Ben. Perley Poore. 1886.