Albert D. (Albert Dresden) Vandam.

My Paris note-book online

. (page 14 of 24)
Online LibraryAlbert D. (Albert Dresden) VandamMy Paris note-book → online text (page 14 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


agreeable about his father's native land. He is con-
versing with M. Ranc, or rather he is talking to him,
for M. Ranc listens more often than he speaks. The
physical and sumptuary contrast between these two is
somewhat startling — not so startling, though, as the
mental and moral contrast if everything were known.
M. Ranc is ''peuple,^' as La Bruyere has it ; M. Edwards
would be aristocratic ; the one's heart is decidedly in the
right place ; the other's, after prompting him to be the
henchman of M. Corn61y, the most uncompromising
champion of sovereign power by right divine, suddenly
caused him to drift into political eclectism, as represented
by Le Matin ; M. Ranc clings frantically to that sup-
posed lightning-conductor "constitutional radicalism,"
in order to avert another crash of anarchy ; M, Edwards
is astride on that weather-cock "liberal journalism,"
and fancies himself in an observatory.

M. Edwards "patronises" the Republic as the natty
little man a few yards away from him "patronises" the
Constitutional Monarchy and the Comte de Paris, whose



My Paris Note-Book. 179

staunchest follower he proclaims himself to be. I
never meet M. Arthur Meyer, diredeur- of Le Gaulois,
whether it be at Sheen House, Bignon's — where M.
Meyer lunches and dines nearly every day when his
social engagements allow him, and where I dine only
when I am taken — or in the Salle des Pas-Perdus,
without being reminded of that scene at Wigan between
a collier and a street preacher. The latter was holding
forth, dealing out death, destruction, and perdition after
the manner of the clergy of old, to all those who refused
to believe in his doctrines, when the former interrupted
him — " Who art thou, my man, as talk' st in that way ?"
he asked. " I am an humble follower of Christ," was
the reply. * ' Art thou ? Well, if a' d been Christ, and
thou'dst followed me, a'd ha' stoned thee." However,
there is no knowing what may happen, in spite of the
Duke de Broglie's exclamation when he heard of t>he
death of the Prince Imperial — " The Republic has the
luck of it ; the Comte de Paris is alive, and the Prince
Imperial is dead." And after all, it was an ass that
carried Christ into Jerusalem.

That ''Apollo all but the head" fights on the same
side with M. Meyer ; but how differently ! It is M.
Edouard Herv6, the editor of Le Soleily the Conserva-
tive candidate for Paris, who in the general election of
1885 managed to secure 140,000 votes — not sufficient,
however, to carry him to the Chamber. He is one of
the two journalists on whom was conferred the honour
of membership by the Academic,* where he occupies
the chair of the late Due de Noailles, between whom

* The other was M. John Lemoinne, the editor of the Journal des
Debats, who at the very hour I write has been succeeded by M.
Ferdinand Brunetiere, the editor of La Revue des Deux-Mondes.
Prevost Paradol does not count from my point of view. He owed
his election to the influence of Napoleon III.



i8o My Paris Note-Book.

and his successor there exists a curious trait of political
resemblance. One evening in the early part of August
1830, the young and recently married nobleman was
seatedwith his wife at the Chateau de Maintenon, which
has become so solitary since. The young couple, not-
withstanding their married happiness, were anxious in-
deed ; they were waiting for tidings of that sudden and
unforeseen revolution which was to shatter so many
hopes to the ground. All at once the rumbling sound
of several carriages was heard. They were evidently
advancing slowly, those conveyances, more like those
forming part of a funeral procession than those of ordi-
nary travellers eager to reach their destination. It was,
in fact, a funeral procession, the funeral of the ' ' sover-
eign right divine, ' ' for in another moment Charles X. ,
almost bent double with fatigue and grief, entered the
great hall, and a little later the Due and Duchesse de
Noailles were listening reverently to the last instructions
— as far as the Duke was concerned — of the last Bour-
bon King. Next morning the Duke was politically
free, and he remained free up to the day of his death,
which enabled him to render some service to his coun-
try during the monarchy of Louis Philippe and under
the Third Republic. During the Second Empire he
retired from public life ; but I am under the impression,
in fact, have been as good as told by the informant to
whom I owe the above story, that this retirement was
due to his personal dislike of an exalted personage dan-
gerously near to the throne, and not to a want of sym-
pathy with the sovereign or his aspirations. As my
portrait-gallery does not include a sketch of the Due de
Noailles, whom I saw only once in my life, I need not
insist upon this, and may return to M. Herv6, who, as I
have said, has for several years already acted some-



My Paris Note-Book. i8i

what like his predecessor in the Acad^mie chair. He
has, without reHnquishing his well-known allegiance
to the House of Orleans, endeavoured to serve his
country within the measure of his abilities, which are
very great indeed. His predecessor's sons are acting
in the same manner, or at any rate were doing so a few
years ago. But they served their country without for-
feiting their liberty of conscience, awaiting better days
perhaps. Here is an anecdote which will perhaps more
fully illustrate my meaning. A brilliant general who is
at the same time an accomplished gentleman, and the
bearer of an historic name, was talking to a friend.
The latter said, ''You are remaining in the army in
spite of everything ; you whose place is on the steps of
the throne." "The steps of the throne?" was the an-
swer. "Well, I am on the steps of the throne. I am
waiting. The one who is not in his place is not I."
That was what the Due de Noailles thought, albeit that
he did not give utterance to his thoughts. That is what
his sons think ; that is what M. Herve, this truly grand
seigneur of journalism thinks. Chateaubriand said —
* * I have often driven with a golden bridle a pair of old
crocks of reminiscences which I fondly imagined to be
a pair of spirited three-year-old hopes. ' ' M. Edouard
Herv€ does not fall into that error. His cattle, whatever
they be, are young ; he has not thought fit to drape
himself, in his faithful adherence to the House of Or-
leans, either in a shroud or in motley.

M. Ribot, who is just passing by, has gone a step
further, and frankly rallied to the Republic. One
might easily mistake him for a grandson of Louis-
Philippe, for there is a striking likeness between him
and the Due de Nemours when the latter was young,
albeit that the late Premier himself is turning grey. I



i82 My Paris Note-Book.

happened to be in the Salle des Pas-Perdus on the day
of his d^but as President of the Council, and could not
help thinking that no man had ever waited more pa-
tiently for his chance than he. He is one of the few-
men who are not afraid of M. C16menceau. The strug-
gle between these two is inevitable. It will be terrible,
though not long ; for whatever may happen, the dis-
ciple of M. Dufaure will fight fair, and I should not like
to pledge myself to the same extent with regard to the
Radical deputy's tactics. One thing is, however, cer-
tain — whenever M. Ribot fights a pitched battle, and
not an outpost afiair like that of the beginning of last
year — and happens to be worsted, he will fall fighting,
and probably like a thorough-bred — that is, never to
rise again, while all the other ministers since the real
advent of the Third Republic (by which I mean the
election of M. Grevy to the Presidency) have simply
fallen like so many cab-horses, to be on their legs again
in so many minutes. From this wholesale statement I
do not even exclude the late M. Jules Ferry ; but I am not
concerned with the dead at present, but with the living.
I said just now that M. Ribot has patiently awaited
his chance, so patiently, in fact, as to make the Estan-
celirs, the Bochers, the Haussonvilles, and even the
royal tenants of Stowe themselves, wonder whether he
might not be waiting for them. If at any period of his
political career M. Ribot intended to throw in his lot
with the Orleanists, such intentions must have received
their death-blow long ago at the hands of the very
head of the illustrious family, and M. Ribot said, no
doubt mentally, what Rivarol wrote to Louis XVI. —
*' Vous n'avez pas voulu ^tre mon roi, je ne veux plus
itre votre sujet." M. Ribot is made of very stern
stuff, by which I do not mean that he is ' ' starched' *



My Paris Note-Book. 183

like the erstwhile Ambassador to England and actual
President of the Senate, M. Challemel-Lacour, or the
late Jules Ferry. On the contrary, M. Ribot is most
courteous and agreeable, even to the merest casual ac-
quaintance ; but he towers mentally a head and shoul-
ders above the majority of the men in power, and that
is a decided disadvantage, especially if the mental
superiority be allied to unbending honesty, under a
regime which would fain make us believe that "/«
carriere est ouverte aux talents'^ ("the tools to those
who can use them," as Carlyle translated it), but which
(the regime) has until now proved by its every action
that its borrowed motto is a lie, and that any man of
great talent, let alone of genius, is sure to find the
ground * * spiked' ' by the mediocrities, apprehensive of
losing their emoluments. Though not particularly apt
at, or fond of prophesying, I would not hesitate to pre-
dict the future of a good many of these mediocrities ;
I should not like to commit myself with regard to M.
Ribot. In the country of the blind the one-eyed is
king ; but the two-eyed would most likely be regarded
as a monster and suffer martyrdom.

Seeing that M. C16menceau's name has cropped up
incidentally under my pen, I may just as well sketch
him as he stands with his back against the reproduction
of the " Laocoon," which has given rise to so many bad
jokes. Englishmen ought to be particularly interested
in M. Clemenceau ; but for him England's position in
Egypt would not be what it is, for it was he who over-
threw the Freycinet Ministry on the question of joint
action. M. Clemenceau warned France not to be made
England's cat's paw the second time ; the Crimean
War having furnished the first occasion, &c. , &c. M.
Clemenceau is, moreover, the idol of the English Radi-



184 My Paris Note-Book.

cals, who never fail to pay him a visit during their trips
to Paris, visits the honour of which is not, perhaps, so
greatly appreciated as they imagine. I have quoted
elsewhere the remark of M. Edouard Herv6, to the
effect that beneath every French aristocrat there lurks a
democrat. M. Clemence'au, though belonging to a
very honourable Vendean family, is decidedly not an
aristocrat by birth, and it is probably on account of this
that I and a good many qui ne se paient pas de mots
fail to find the real democrat behind the professed one.
He is overbearing to his inferiors, and superciliously
polite to his superiors — for M. Clemenceau has supe-
riors, mentally, morally, and socially, in and out of the
Chambers, and the very fact of his not adopting the
same tone with every one proves that he himself has
an uncomfortable suspicion of that superiority. But he
has not his equal in or out of the Chamber — I am
almost tempted to say in any European Assembly, as a
debater ; albeit that for the last thirteen years I have
never heard him address the House for longer than ten
minutes at a time. His style is to that of Gambetta as
a flash of forked lightning to a prolonged thunder-clap.
I no more believe in the sincerity of M. Clemenceau
than Madame de Stael believed in that of Mirabeau ; I
have, moreover, no sympathy with the legislation M.
C16menceau affects, apart from the question of the sin-
cerity or the reverse of its advocate ; and of the value
of M. Clemenceau' s sincerity I have as profound doubts
as I have of the political regeneration of France since
1 87 1. And yet I feel inclined every now and then to
applaud him as frantically as Necker's daughter ap-
plauded the great tribune more than a hundred years
ago. Each sentence is like a sword thrust, when it is not
a hot iron applied to quivering flesh. If I wished to con-



My Paris Note-Book. 185

tinue the metaphor, I mig-ht add that it produces a hissing
sound from those at whom it is aimed. I have never
met with a man calculated to impress one more at the
first glance than M. Clemenceau ; but I am not quite
certain — I am speaking for myself alone — whether the
impression would last or be intensified if I were to be
very long in his company. I lived for a long while
within a quarter of a mile of M. C16menceau's place at
Montmartre ; that is, I lived in the Avenue Trudaine
and adjacent streets, which are within the boulevards
excentriques, while his residence was beyond ; and I
used to meet the ex-deputy frequently. I gradually got
used to the extraordinary skull and features, which to
describe scientifically would require a Gall and a Lavater
combined. The skull especially would puzzle any one
but a thoroughly capable phrenologist and osteologist ;
it is, though apparently round like a bullet, full of
knobs and ridges, while the features, but for the nose,
are Mongolian, or Mongoloid- American would perhaps
be a more correct term. But for that nose, the like of
which I have only seen once before on a white man's
face (on that of Fr6d6ric LemaJtre), one might mistake
M. C16menceau for a cannibal, a very intelligent cannibal,
but a cannibal for all that. Odd to relate, this powerful,
almost phenomenal, debater winces at an epigram lev-
elled at himself.

In republicanism it is not the first but the last step
which becomes most difficult. A man who has been for
several years the idol of the most mischievous and tur-
bulent section of the Paris population, finds it hard to
realise that there can be people audacious enough to
withstand his will on the plea that all men are equal.
Rightly or wrongly, M. Clemenceau was for a consider-
able while the idol of the proletariat ; but the worship

16*



1 86 My Paris Note-Book.

brought its penalties to the idol. When Gambetta was
at the height of his popularity, he went one day to one
of the agricultural districts in the south of France to
support a Republican candidate. As was his wont, he
inquired after the farmers' wants, and was told that the
country wanted rain. ' ' Rain, ' ' he said, in his jaunty,
jovial manner ; ** well, I'll see about it when I get back to
Paris ; I'll have a talk with the Minister of Agriculture
and the Director of the Observatory. ' ' And these shrewd,
but withal, simple-minded folk trusted in his implied
promise to procure for them the much-needed downpour.
This beats the story told by Dean Ramsay in his ' ' Rem-
iniscences," of the Scotch minister who not only prayed
for rain from the pulpit, but proceeded to give the Al-
mighty directions as to the exact manner in which it
should descend ; but I can vouch for the truth of what
I state. About that same period I was walking down
one of the side streets in the Chaussee de Clignancourt,
when I heard a violent altercation between an old dame
and a sergent de ville on account of the dust before her
door. The former let the latter have it all his own way ;
she gave her name and so forth; then she lifted her
shrivelled arms to heaven. ' * Grand Dieu, grand Dieu !' *
she exclaimed ; "si Gambetta savait seulement ce qui
se passe ^ Paris. ' ' The Princess of Wales could proba-
bly cap the last anecdote by relating a dozen similar
ones about the times when she was a young girl, and
when her father used to perambulate the poorer quarters
of Copenhagen, accompanied by his two great danes.
"Wait till King Christian comes by, and we'll ask him
about it," was the usual exclamation when a conflict
arose between the police and the humbler inhabitants.
What was better still, His Majesty was never appealed
to in vain, and, best of all, his decision was never ques-



My Paris Note-Book. 187

tioned, however much it might go against the appellant.
Well, in the heyday of his success, M. C16menceau's
name was as frequently invoked as that of Gambetta,
and that of King Christian, and mostly by the Paris
cabmen. Not once, but a score of times, have I had
M. Clemenceau's name thrown in my teeth when in-
scribing a complaint against an insolent Jehu in the reg-
ister provided at every rank by the police ; for that is a
thing they decidedly manage better in Paris than in
London. One need not put up with bullying there un-
less one likes. One is not bound to waste one's time
by taking out a summons and losing a valuable day in
court. An official appointed for the purpose settles
such matters for the complainant, who is invited to at-
tend only when the charge is denied. Under no cir-
cumstances is the complainant called upon to provide
cabby with a day's leisure and give him six shillings for
doing nothing. Neither Gambetta nor Christian IX.
was ever besieged by his idolaters as was M. Cl^men-
ceau, who found them at last too numerous to be pleas-
ant, for they came on the slightest pretext, in spite of
the far from polite reception accorded to them. They
did not mind it. It is wonderful what an amount of
downright insolence the Republican artisan will bear
from his favourite deputy, while he will scarcely allow
his employer to remonstrate with him. The following
may serve as an instance in point- M. Clemenceau was
originally a doctor, and used to give gratuitous advice
at certain hours of the day. In one respect, at any
rate, M. Clemenceau was like Abernethy — he was rough
and abrupt with his patients. One morning one of
these entered his consulting-room. "Take off your
coat, waistcoat, and shirt," said the physician as he went
on writing, "I'll attend to you directly." Three



1 88 My Paris Note-Book.

minutes later, on looking up, he found the man stripped
to the waist. * ' There is nothing the matter with you, ' '
said M. Clemenceau when he had examined him. ' ' I
know there isn't." " Then what did you come for?"
* ' To consult you on a political question. " * * Then what
did you strip for?" "I thought you wanted an illus-
tration of the emaciated body of the man who lives by
the sweat of his brow. ' '

This must have been too much even for M. Clemen-
ceau, for shortly afterwards he removed from Mont-
martre. M. C16menceau, if I am not mistaken, went
to the Quartier Marbceuf— or Marbeuf — but seven times
out of ten your Radical deputy, after a little while, takes
up his quarters in the Faubourg Saint- Germain. Of
course the pretext is the short distance from the Palais-
Bourbon ; the real reason is the considerable distance
that divides the aristocratic quarter from the Faubourgs
Saint-Antoine, Belleville, and M6nilmontant, the hot-
beds of turbulent, restless demagogy.

If we are to believe the late, though still living, Mad-
ame Clemenceau, her erstwhile husband is the galantin
of the Third Republic, as Barere was the galantin of
the ' ' Terror. ' ' Barere said soft nothings to the fair pe-
titioners that crowded his ante-chamber. He smiled on
them ; promised to look after their welfare ; pretended
to be moved by their looks and tears ; and toyed with
them as a kitten plays with a ball of knitting-wool.
When on the evening of the 3rd September 1793, thirty-
one actors and actresses of the Com^die-Frangaise were
taken to prison en masse for having performed on the
previous night an adaptation of Richardson's " Pamela"
by Fran9ois de Neufch^teau, which displeased the Jacob-
ins on account of the praise lavished on the English
Government, and the moral maxims placed on the lips



My Paris Note-Book. 189

of Lords while the Duke of York was overrunning the
territories of the Republic : when that wholesale incar-
ceration took place, only three of the " enemies of the
Republic' ' were released after three weeks ; the rest re-
mained under lock and key for eleven months, in fact
until after the death of Robespierre. One of the three
fortunate comedians was our old acquaintance, Mile.
Lange, of ' ' Madame Angot' ' notoriety. It was Barere's
influence which opened the doors to her. M. Clemen-
ceau has never had an opportunity of interceding for
one of the fascinating actresses of the Comedie-Frangaise
of to-day ; first of all, because recalcitrant actresses,
whatever their offence, are no longer consigned to the
Four-L'Ev^que, which house of detention itself has dis-
appeared, or to other prisons ; secondly, because his
favourite /r<?/^^^^ (who only died within the last month, ')
though she managed to get her feet within the Comedie-
Frangaise, never got those feet before the footlights.
The engagement was duly signed and sealed, the salary
was as duly paid, but the * ' lady' ' was never cast for a
part. A similar thing had happened during the admin-
istration of M. Emile Perrin, for the men of the Third
Republic, who never cease to inveigh against the fa-
vouritism and nepotism of the men of the Second Em-
pire and its preceding regimes^ nevertheless do avail
themselves of their positions to practise what they con-
demned and condemn. When the first pensionnaire
thus introduced, attempted, after months of weary wait-
ing, to obtain her debuts, M. Perrin simply stared her in
the face with that stony stare peculiarly his own. ' ' Made-
moiselle, ' ' he said at last, ' ' vous 6tes entree ici par force ;
d6butez par force. ' ' M. Jules Claretie, more suave than
his predecessor, refrained from giving an ultimatum: he
^ Written in February '94.



igo My Paris Note-Book.

merely tired the ' ' lady' ' out ; but the final result was
the same, the ' ' lady' ' resigned her engagement. From
all this it will be seen that the ' * Spartans' ' of the Third
Republic, though they keep her carefully out of politics,
have an eye for a pretty actress, as well as the * ' Spar-
tans' ' of the ' ' Terror' ' and the Sybarites of the Direc-
tory. M. C16menceau therefore need not deny his con-
nection with the Com^die-Frangaise. '* Whatever hap-
pens has happened before," even in the best regulated
of republics. Gambetta, whose career bore more than
an accidental likeness to Mirabeau's, disappeared from
the scene, like Mirabeau, when the respective regimes
were virtually very young, for, I repeat, the Third Re-
public is not unlike a girl in her teens, who, by means of
a long dress, would pretend to be older than she really
is. Mirabeau' s death was accelerated, if not caused, by
an imprudent supper party at Mile. Coulon's, the dan-
seuse ; Gambetta' s death was attributed to a wound re-
ceived accidentally in his attempt to wring from a lady
the pistol with which she intended to kill herself. Mme.
Leona L6vy may be, for all I know, dead, but I am not
speaking without foundation. But neither Mirabeau nor
Gambetta was ever influenced by a woman in the way
I would suggest. Mile, de Nehra, if we judge by her
diary only, was to the full as intelligent and accom-
plished as Mme. Edmond Adam ; yet neither succeeded
in making the men whom they would have fain inspired,
swerve a hair's-breadth from their intended course. We
can hear both men say mentally with Goethe — '^ Sie ist
volkommen, und sie fehiet darin allein, dass sie mich
liebt."

I said just now that the ** Spartans" of the Third Re-
public had an eye for a pretty actress. There are seve-
ral to whom I would give the benefit of the doubt with



My Paris Note-Book. 191

regard to that accusation — if it be one — but M. Henri
Brisson I would unhesitatingly acquit. M. Brisson is
as chaste ' ^ by temperament' ' as was Robespierre, with-
out being *'a libertine in imagination," like the latter.
Such chastity on the part of such a magnificent speci-
men of physical manhood — ^who is not bound by a
vow to that effect — would be difficult to realise any-
where ; in France it may be regarded as absolutely phe-
nomenal. For as M. Brisson stands there talking to
one of his former ministerial colleagues, one is bound
to admit that it would be difficult to find a handsomer
man in any country than the late President of the
Panama Commission. The face is a pure oval, the
nose and mouth are almost faultless, and the eyes
expressive to a degree. M. Brisson is somewhat above
the middle height, with a capitally proportioned frame ;
he dresses very carefully ; somewhat sombrely, but
probably in thorough keeping with his temperament.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryAlbert D. (Albert Dresden) VandamMy Paris note-book → online text (page 14 of 24)