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Poles as previously outlined, they will still
"wait,*' for they dream of nothing short
of the restoration of an independent and
united Poland. Many of them believe that
Galicia is destined to play the role of a
Polish Piedmont, and that their opportu-
nity will come, as that of Piedmont came,
through a great European war.



editorial NOTE
Since the above article was made ready for the press, the Czar, in a rescript issued May i6,
1905, removed many of the restrictive ordinances from which Poland has suffered. Permis-
sion to introduce the Polish and Lithuanian languages into the primary and secondary schools
is granted ; the assemblies of Polish nobles are reestablished ; the purchase of land by Catholic
peasants is permitted ; and these measures, it is understood, are to be followed by local self-
government through the zemstvo. Should these reforms be put in force, the result will mark
a complete reversal of Russian policy in Poland.



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NOTABLE WOMEN:
THE LATE PRINCESS MATHILDE

(BORN MAY 27, 1820; DIED JANUARY 2, 1904)
BY MME. BLANC (-TH. BENTZON")



THE CLOSE OF THE LAST GREAT SALON
OF FRANCE

UM« I IT is not long since M. Victor du
^p I I Bled contributed to this maga-
^^bJ zine an entertaining sketch of
■*«S™ the Princess Mathilde,^ and yet
already those witty eyes are closed, those
lips, eloquent in discussion And gracious in
welcome, are silent forever. The queen of
the last Paris salon is no more. I take the
word " salon " as it was understood when
first used, for it is needless to repeat that
there are still in Paris many drawing-rooms
where men and women talk; the art of
conversation will last as long as France
herself. Still, what was implied by the
word " salon '* has disappeared with two or
three mattresses de maison of the old school,
whom our fashionable women of to-day,
though they may, perhaps, equal them,
cannot replace. This seems to contradict
what I said in these pages ten years ago,2
but then ten years bring forth many
changes.

WHY THERE ARE NO MORE SALONS

That there should be no more salons in
Paris is easily accounted for. First, we
have more men's clubs now in France, and
once a man is accustomed to the inde-
pendence and the easy-goingness of club
life he finds the tyranny of a salon irksome ;
for a salon imposes a certain constraint, a
litde self-sacrifice. Secondly, women nowa-
days cannot stay at home. The life of their
grandmothers, who never traveled, never

1 See The Century for February, 1902 ;
* Sec The Century for August,



had any outdoor amusement, never paid
the thousand visits which are now con-
sidered a duty, would be to them some-
thing like prison life. Bicycling has done
as much harm to reading and conversation
as it may have done good to the health.
Thirdly, the influence of the cosmopolitan
element destroys sets or coteries. Now a
salon is a coterie where people meet who
agree and who can understand one another's
half -spoken words. An outsider strikes like
a false note. One may call this narrow-
mindedness, but the fact cannot be denied.
No one can have a salon with the doors
wide open ; it would turn immediately into
a club. Its chief charm lies in its exclu-
siveness, which fosters the necessary inti-
macy between the habitues. Of course
from time to time a foreign celebrity makes
his or her appearance, and, so to speak,
renews the air; or a stranger may pass
through and interest the guests by the very
law of contrast : but the real aim of those
whose presence constitutes a salon is to
meet in order to spar as brightly as they
can with some friendly adversary, upon
some known subject, before people whom
they desire to please. How, in this troubled
year of grace 1905, could any one unite
in a salon the Nationalists and the Drey-
fusards, the friends and the detractors of
the government, even supposing them all
to be inteUigent and well-bred ? It would
not be a salon, but a menagerie with the
animals eating one another up. Only think !
I myself have heard girls ask, when invited
to a dance at the house of a wealthy banker

** The Salon of the Princess Mathilde."
1894: ** Conversation in France."



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PRINCESS MATHILDE

LXX-58



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466



THE CENTURY MAGAZINE



suspected of Jewish proclivities: "Shall
we at least have Christian partners ? "
The other camp stands in a defensive— too
often an aggressive— attitude, and raises
subjects of conversation chosen as if to
irritate or to draw out the opinions of their
opponents. The day is long past when
French society asked of a man no more
than that he should be a gentleman.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PRINCESS

There was, there could be, no element of
discord at the Princess Mathilde's. It has
been said again and again that she not
only permitted, but even courted contra-
diction. In fact, she never seemed to no-
tice that among her guests were A. Franck,
the Jew ; Renan, a man separated from the
church ; M^rim^e, an atheist who had never
been baptized. Yet we learn elsewhere how
she quarreled with Taine, and the Gon-
courts have told of her violent dispute with
Sainte-Beuve. The discussion which she
invited had to be bounded by careful po-
liteness; had to be a neat tournament
encounter, not a free fight. Above all, she
suflFered no blame, no criticism, of her idol.
Napoleon I. Apart from that, opinions
were at Hberty to express themselves. She
even excused the impartial judgments of
history upon her own family. Her friend-
ship for Frederic Masson is a proof of this.
Her sure and firm hold of the scepter of
conversation was strengthened by her title
of " Imperial Highness," and its use was
thereby justified even among democrats.
The princess claimed for herself alone the
right of saying anything or everything ; she
knew how to turn or check conversation
in a way that admitted of no reply. The
truth is that though free and kindly, though
much of what some called "a very good
fellow," the princess, for half a century, and
especially after the fall of the empire, made
of her salon a small court where the rules of
etiquette were strictly observed even when
she strove to forget them. I confess that
the reserve which always reigns in a court,
even when presided over by a gracious
fairy, prevented me from seeing the Prin-
cess Mathilde as often as I might otherwise
have done. Having to remember those
easy words "your Highness" sufficed to
make me dull, and such the princess must
have thought me. I am all the more grate-
ful to her for her constant kindness to me.



AN UNFORTUNATE REMARK

Once— once only— I lost in her presence
the sense of social distinction. I had just
returned from breathing the free air of
America. It was in 1894, on my return
from a first journey to the United States.
She questioned me with amiable curiosity,
listened attentively, and seemed amused at
the enthusiasm of a person who showed
naively the impression of having discovered
a new world. As I was describing Balti-
more, she said: "You seem to like that

city very much." The Count T , who

was present, showed some want of tact by
remarking that I was not the only person
who had admired Baltimore, her Highnesses
father having done so before me. I should
not care to meet the glance which the
daughter of King Jerome flashed at the
imprudent speaker. The pleasant question-
ing ceased, and I grew silent, thinking of
a house in Baltimore where the memory of
the First Empire is preciously kept, and
where family souvenirs, though less numer-
ous and less costly than in the h6tel of the
Rue de Berri, are not less dear to their
owners.



THE princess's LOYALTY

It was at Arcachon, whither, contrary to
her habit of never leaving Paris save for
St. Gratien, she had gone to spend a few
days, that I was able to judge of that elo-
quence which, like her brother the Prince
Napoleon, she possessed to a degree. She
was speaking of love, the only real joy of
a woman's life, and she spoke with all the
passion of a fiery, unsophisticated Italian.
She had in her heart of hearts a ray of
the sun of Italy, though she would be all
French and waved away what was said of
her cousinship with every royal house in
Europe, answering : " I am only a Napo-
leon."

She did, indeed, know how to speak as
a Napoleon of France and of our national
glories. Such was her respect for them
that if, while driving in the Champs-filys^es,
she met a regiment, she alighted from her
carriage in courtesy to the flag. Her great-
est grief was caused by the attacks and the
insults leveled against the army of late
years. Otherwise she would have had no
animosity for republican institutions.

In a letter written in 1865 she says:



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Drawn by A. Custai|f iic. Half-tuiie plate ei>t;rAvei] l>y II. Daviilsuu

IN THE STUDIO OF THE PRINCESS MATHILDE



As I am not of sufficiently high birth to
have had relatives guillotined, I have had only
the roses of the Revolution ; I love it, I under-
stand it, and I wish every Frenchman to feel
its grandeur.

HER DIRECTNESS OF THOU(;HT

To return to my own reminiscences. I
recall a dinner at which I met Anatole



France, then known only as the author of
that delightful book, "The Crime of Sil-
vestre Bonnard," of "The Book of My
FViend," and of " Thais " ; but the princess
seemed to foref eel that he would develop in
directions with which she would be unsym-
pathetic, to wit, " L'Anneau d'Amethyste,"
" Craincjuebille," or other offsprings of
Dreyfusism and socialism. However this



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From a photograph by Braun, Clement et Cie. of the pastel by Lucien Doucet

THE PRINCESS MATHILDE AT WORK



may have been, she did not put him into
a happy vein.

He probably felt out of his element and
uttered none of those original remarks,
those sparkling paradoxes, which strike his
hearers all the more forcibly that he gen-
erally says them hesitatingly, as though he
were seeking the newest, most perfect form
of expression, whereas he really halts from
some natural defect. The princess and he
were not made to understand each other.
She was averse to far-fetched subtleties of
thought. As Sainte-Beuve remarks :

The eaglet loves the sun. . . . Her mind,
like her character, was simple and straight-



forward, without a shadow ; it was elevated
and open, marked by pure good faith. Her
thoughts were well defined, with never an in-
stant's doubt or hesitation. She understood
only what was clear and easily explained. It
was useless to talk to her of those ambiguous,
complicated ideas which reflect both sides of
a question. Twilight definitions, half-seen,
dusky things, she did not comprehend. In this
respect she was a child of the South ; what
she did see, she saw clearly defined. With her
it was all day or all night ; an Italian sky of
light, with well-marked horizons, cloudless,
hazeless, pure blue and neatly cut outlines.

I may as well say at once that she hardly
grasped the rapid evolution of ideas and



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NOTABLE WOMEN : THE LATE PRINCESS MATHILDE 469



tastes which marks the last five-and-twenty
years. The newer forms of art, the psy-
chological complexity in many of the
novels of to-day, she considered mere af-
fectation.

She fell back upon history, upon mem-
oirs, with delight ; and she herself uttered
history in its most captivating, most lively
form, when, as she would sometimes do of
an ei guests, she

told her grand-

moth her aunts,

the s inched life

in F ly time of

exile given her

by L later paid

back ale. Some

of th ide all the

more he pointed

to the busts and portraits of the older
Bonapartes that were round the room. She
had never forgotten anything, and could
paint a vivid picture of what she remem-
bered. As she talked, her face, in its un-
fading beauty of feature, shone with the
light of youth.

A COMPLIMENT FROM THE CZARINA

The princess remained beautiful to the
last. When the Emperor and Empress of
Russia visited Paris and its sights, the
Princess Mathilde received them under the
dome of the Invalides, near the tomb of
her uncle. It had been agreed that she
should do so alone, and without any offi-
cial escort.

It must have been a striking apparition
when, with her Napoleonic face, she, in
whose veins the blood of the hero flowed,
—she, the sole representative of the mourn-
ing race, — stood robed in dark purple on
the steps of the funereal vault. She did
the honors of the place with inborn maj-
esty; no one I ever knew had such a
sovereign air, such a dignity of mien or of
rhythmic step. But even as she acquitted
herself of a mission so well suited to her,
a trifling incident worried her. The young
Empress, whom she saw for the first time,
had gazed at her bewildered. " Certainly,"
thought she, " my bonnet is on one side."

The next day, after the luncheon at the
Russian embassy, she seized the oppor-
tunity of a moment's t^te-^-t^te with the
Empress in the room of the little grand-
duchess to ask what had seemed so ex-



traordinary. The Empress smiled and said :
"When I thought of the length of years
attributed to your Highness I did not ex-
pect to find you so young."

THE BEAUTY OF THE PRINCESS

This confession was far from being un-
pleasant, nor was it a form of flattery. In
the evening, by the light of lamps or
candles, the princess showed arms and
shoulders as white as the pearls that half
concealed them and that were always her
favorite ornament. Her skin was like satin
in the uniform paleness which spread over
her once rose-leaf complexion. A light
touch of art kept her hair from growing
white. The lines of her profile remained
pure, as can easily be seen in the pastel by
Lucien Doucet, which shows her painting
in water-color, with one hand, of exquisite
shape, stretched over a slanting drawing-
case. She was remarkably well made,
and, though perhaps stout, she was never
heavy nor fat, while the native elegance of
her gait, demeanor, and movements was
heightened by her perfect naturalness,
which was, indeed, her most characteristic
feature.

HER FRANKNESS

It is impossible to be more natural than
was the princess. The freedom of speech
for which she has been blamed was part
of her frankness, like a grain not precisely
of Attic salt, but of genuine sel gaulois in
the formation of a mind which could be
serious and thoughtful when it chose. All
the eminent men, whose society she pre-
ferred to that of women, agree in rendering
justice to the correctness of her judgment.
She was too thoroughly a Frenchwoman
of the old school not to utter, from time
to time, some bold expression calling things
by their names ; but these startling sallies,
like her bursts of anger, were mere light-
ning flashes, and sprang from her great-
est charm, the charm of spontaneousness.
How could she help being at times violent,
she who had jealously preserved the power
of feeling indignant at all the meanness,
the falsehood, alas I so common in life ? Of
course those about her suffered from these
sudden storms, but she knew how to heal
the hurt she inflicted. A word or a note
in her rapid, almost illegible handwriting
brought the injured one back to her more
devoted than ever.



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PRINCESS MATHILDE'S COLLAR OF WHITE PEARLS, WHICH FORMERLY BELONGED TO

QUEEN SOPHIA OF HOLLAND, AND WHICH BROUGHT AT THE SALE OF HER

EFFECTS 940,000 FRANCS



ARTISTIC SYMPATHIES

Princess Mathilde was an artist in the
passionate protection which she afforded
to artists as well as by her love for the
beautiful and her constant effort to at-
tain it. Her talent was by no means des-
picable, though it produced nothing very
remarkable. She studied attentively, and
her drawings were frequently hung at the ex-
hibitions of art, but in her own house they
were banished to the studio. She never
'* showed off " ; besides, no one knew so well
as herself where they were wanting. " When
I am gone," she would say, " what will be
the use of them ? They may light a fire."

her good works

On the other hand, she could show off her
friends. She never tired of helping them,
of pushing them on. Her influence with
the Emperor was mainly employed in aid
of her friends. Innumerable are those for
whom she obtained the Legion of Honor
or an order for a picture.

I will not enlarge here on what has been
said of her unceasing care in helpful and



active good works. Even as I write, the
widow of Jules Machard, the painter, is
telling me how, after the death of her hus-
band, the princess came to her one winter's
day, when she was alone in the country
with her inconsolable grief. The princess
braved the inclemency of the weather,
drawn to the solitary house by the sorrow of
one who had been, in days of youth and hap-
piness, a charming ornament of her salon.

How many of her habitues— of those,
too, whom she had to complain of, who
had failed her or abandoned her — saw her
at their bedside when they were ill ; were
consoled and amused by her; and were
always forgiven ! She had a motherly love
for children of all ranks. At Christmas and
at Easter she gave them merry parties. She
was fond of making presents, and she chose
her gifts with that care to please the re-
ceiver which is a kindness in itself. Her
charity was as graceful as her friendship.
Nobody can tell how much she gave away,
but the foundation for incurable girls, at
Neuilly, will be a lasting witness to her
charity. She never ceased looking after it.

One might almost think that this woman,



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NOTABLE WOMEN: THE LATE PRINCESS MATHILDE 471



who had enjoyed life so intensely,— re-
joicing in her affections, her health, her

tes, her
of her
i,-felt
nsadon
)less ill
ing.



will no
which
by the
of the
re. In
; would
by her
eptam-
di such
aubert,
or the
many
in con-
in their
_, Dunt of

the Hfe led at St. Gratien. They have de-
picted, without omitting a single one, every
detail of this mansion, which, if it has no-
thing regal in itself, is rendered beautiful
by the view it commands over the lake of
Enghien and the forest of Montmorency.
The studio, crowded like a conservatory
with palms and ferns, relieved by pictur-
esque, exotic ornaments, contains immense
divans, where the assembled guests whiled
away the warm hours of the afternoon.
They read or drew or conversed, while the
princess sat before her easel or at her tapes-
try-frame, talking ; or, listening to some one
who read aloud, embroidered marvelous
patterns invented or designed by herself.
ITien came the large rooms on the ground
floor, drawing-rooms, library, and dining-
room, all hung alike in chintz with oleander
flowers on a sea-green-tinted ground, of
which she used to say : " I am so fond of
my old chintz with friends sitting upon it."
Then came the more private apartments :
in their toy furniture she kept dainties for
her dogs ; the great looking-glasses mirrored
the knickknacks scattered about ; the walls
and chairs were decked with fresh-colored
stuffs the brightness of which pleased her.

HER LAST ILLNESS

It was in front of the writing-table in her
bedchamber that she had the fall which



eventually caused her death. Just a few
days before, one of her intimate friends,
fimile Gebhardt, the historian of the six-
teenth century in Italy, had spoken to me
of the lively way in which she walked her
guests through the park and took them to
see the improvements in her poultry-yard
and some new species she had introduced
there. Never had she been in better spirits ;
"and yet," he added, "for some time,
when leading her to the dinner-table, I
have noticed that she leans more heavily
on my arm." All her youth of mind and
body did not prevent her being past eighty
years of age.

She was brought back to Paris to be taken
care of, and, for the first time in her life,
this ever-active woman was seen lying on
a sofa ; and there she lingered for weeks
and months. Such was the strength of her
constitution that for long -weeks she bid
defiance to death ; and when at length she
yielded, it was with admirable courage and
serenity. She was surrounded by her
family : the Princess Clotilde, who had
come from Italy; the Empress Eugenie;
Princess Laetitia, Duchess of Aosta; her
cousins, the Princesses Bonaparte; and a
son of one of the latter. Count Primoli,
himself a great lover of arts and letters, and
for whom she had always shown a marked
affection. As before, her friends formed
around her an attentive court. More often
than others came the cur^ of St. Gratien,
her constant ally and almoner in her good
works. The princess had never been a
devotee ; this was the great difference be-
tween her and her sister-in-law, Princess
Clotilde ; but, when her time came, she did
not hesitate to set her conscience in order
according to the law of the religion in
which she was bom and which she re-
spected even if she did not follow its prac-
tices entirely. Simple in her faith, as she
had been in everything else, it was to the
good old country priest she had recourse.
After many alternatives of hope and fear,
her last moments came so suddenly that
the Empress, who had passed the day with
her, was not present, having thought she
might leave without risk.

RELATIONS WITH THE EMPRESS EUGENIE

Since the fall of the empire and their com-
mon misfortunes, the two cousins had lived
on terms of sincere cordiality. Before then



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Drawn by H. D. Nichols after a photog^ph
ST. GRATIEN, RESIDENCE OF THE PRINCESS MATHILDE



they do not seem to have felt much affec-
tion for each other, the coolness being
especially in the side of the Princess
Mathilde, who could not easily reconcile
herself to the love-match of Napoleon III.
This did not spring from any personal
feeling in the matter ; for, if it be true that
a marriage was proposed between her and
Prince Louis Napoleon in their youth, no
romance existed between them, as some
people have tried to make out. The prin-
cess was not one of those young girls who
allow themselves to be sacrificed by their
family, independence and a strong will
being her chief quahties. One of the peo-
ple who knew her most intimately said
to me : " If she had desired this marriage
it would have taken place, for what she
wished always happened."

THE OBSEQUIES

On New Year's day, when many friends
would come to kiss the hand of the princess
and offer her their good wishes, only sad
faces were seen to cross the threshold of
the h6tel in the Rue de Berri. The names
of the Orleans princes were the first writ-
ten down at the top of the list opened on
the 2d of January. The body of the prin-
cess lay in state in the bedroom for two
days. In her white satin robes the dead
woman seemed to sleep on a bed of violets,



her favorite flower— Napoleon's flower,
too. An image of the Virgin hung at the
head of the bed. Then a bier, covered with
mourning drapery displaying a cross in
white watered silk, was borne below into
the great hushed drawing-room, where, in
winter, on Wednesdays and Sundays, so
many lively talkers used to meet. Later,
the coffin was transported to the church of
St. Gratien, to remain till the funeral, which
could not take place before the arrival of
Prince Louis Napoleon. Prince Victor, 'as
head of the family, had notified the sov-
ereigns of Europe of the death of his aunt,
but the law of exile prevented him from
being present. He who bears, under a
foreign flag, the glorious name of General
Bonaparte arrived from Russia on the 12th
of January, as sole legatee of the princess.
He executed her last wishes hurriedly, like
a soldier obliged to return at once to his
post.

The obsequies were most impressive.
The poor children of the Mathilde Asylum
wept bitterly for the loss of their bene-
factress. With the nuns who take care of
them, they came to the solemn service for
the princess at the parish church of her
Paris residence— the Church of St. Philip
du Roule. They were there with the nota-
bilities of the Second Empire, with the rep-
resentatives of almost every royal house
of Europe, with friends gathered once more



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NOTABLE WOMEN: THE LATE PRINCESS MATHILDE 473



in common grief for her who had so long
united them by the charm of her presence.
The whole nave of the church was hung in
black; the choir was dazzlingly lighted;
the catafalque was magnificent ; the music
of Beethoven, Stradella, and Chopin, added



Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Barton) RendleThe Century → online text (page 59 of 120)